By Prajoy Dutta
Sartaj Chahal is a graduate of the National Law School of India University who was recently ranked 123rd [all India] in the UPSC Civil Services examinations.
In this interview with Lawctopus, he talks about his preparation for the UPSC Civil Services examinations, his advice to budding UPSC aspirants and what is it that prompted him to become a civil servant in the first place.
He dedicates this success to his sisters, brother-in-laws and his parents for the vital and essential role they have played in supporting him throughout his preparation.
Please tell us about your family background and your educational background, schooling, college etc?
I’m from Chandigarh where I completed my schooling upto class 12.
I studied upto class 10 in St. Johns School after which I completed my schooling from the Govt. Model School, Sector 16. My father is an engineer and an ex-army officer and my mother is a homemaker.
After completing my schooling in Chandigarh, I joined NLSIU, Bangalore.
What is it that prompted you to look at the civil services as a serious career option and when is it that you had finally decided that you would opt for the examination?
I was always interested in working towards the upliftment of society. Thus a career in the civil services was the best option since it allows you to work at the grassroot level.
Interacting with alumni who are civil servants further strengthened my decision.
As to when I finally decided that it would be the civil services for me, I’d say it was after I had done some corporate firm internships and come to the conclusion that the work didn’t interest me as much a career in the civil services did.
What are the subjects that a UPSC Civil Services examination aspirant needs to focus on in law school?
Keeping in mind the syllabus of the examination, I would say that the subjects that a serious aspirant needs to focus on are Constitutional Law, International Law, Criminal Law, Contract Law and the Law of Torts.
I personally found these subjects pretty interesting and attractive.
How did you go about your preparation for the examination?
I actively started preparing for the examination 6 months after graduating from NLSIU. I prepared diligently for a year and a half and no, I did not join any coaching classes.
However, a strict word of advice to law students. Even if you decide to attempt the examinations after graduating from college, you must always read the newspaper everyday from the day you have finally decided that you want a career in the civil services. It is imperative that you do so as it helps a lot in the long run.
Also, should you not want to join a coaching class, I highly recommend that you sign up for the test series and interview series of various coaching classes. They help a great deal in terms of acquainting you with what to expect from the examination.
Was it difficult to not get swayed by the high paying jobs in top tier law firms that your batchmates were placed in?
Since I had firmly decided that I wanted a career in the civil services, I was not tempted or swayed by the excellent high paying jobs my batchmates were getting placed in.
It is important that all aspirants remember that the UPSC Civil Services examination is highly competitive and is made for those who show a serious commitment towards preparing for it.
Half hearted efforts will NOT work. You have to remain committed, serious and diligent throughout your preparation time. Slacking off will not work.
It has generally been observed that though some aspirants do well in the examination rounds, they falter in the interview round and end up not being selected? This puts a big dampener on their diligent efforts. Are there any tips you have for the interview round?
The interview round of the selection process is designed to test how well candidates can perform under pressure. Thus the questions that any candidate will be asked by the panel shall too be designed in a similar fashion.
There will be questions that throw you off your balance but it is very important that you do not express this and come up with a quick and good reply.
Keeping this in mind, the biggest tip I can offer to the aspirants is that you must remain calm, composed and confident during the interview.
You have gotten this far, it is entirely possible that you will reach the end. Stay calm, stay composed and stay confident.
Did being a law student help in any way towards your preparation for this examination?
Being a law student definitely helped a lot in my preparation for this examination.
The UPSC Civil Services examination asks you to deconstruct, analyze and solve complex socio-legal problems and being from a legal background helps a great deal since that is pretty much what we do during the 5 years of study in law school.
Any final words of advice?
I’d also like to wish the very best of luck to all the aspirants out there.
Stay committed, stay focused and be diligent in your preparation. Do this and you have a very high chance of successfully cracking the examination.