‘No short cuts to success’

  • Saqib Malik
  • Publish Date: Jun 26 2016 2:21PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jun 26 2016 2:21PM
‘No short cuts to success’

The Divipora village in Mattan erupted in joy when Athar Aamir-ul-Shafi Khan, 23, secured second position in the civil services exam conducted by the UPSC. From making audio recordings to improve his verbal communication to improving his body language, Khan did whatever it takes to emerge a winner. In an interview with Saqib Malik, Khan says that bringing an attitudinal change is a key requirement for any civil service aspirant

First of all congratulations on achieving this feat.  Give us a brief timeline of your career?
After finishing my 12th exams I appeared in various entrance exams and cracked JKCET. I spent almost five-six months at GMC Jammu pursuing MBBS. Soon after getting a call from IIT Mandi in Himachal, I joined BTech and joined there full time. It was in the last year of my engineering that I secured 560th rank in the civil service exam 2014 and received the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS). Last year, during the second attempt, I was keen to improve my ranking and eventually stood second now. I did my schooling from Anantnag and later part of schooling at Tyndale Biscoe Srinagar.
What is the mantra to your success?
 In my second attempt at IAS, I did not intend to start from the very basics. I rather analysed the loopholes and my strategy was to fill in the gaps. Time management was quite crucial as I had to make a balance between pursuing BTech and carrying on with the civil service preparations.  It was all about drawing a proper study plan and follow a time table. This exam (IAS) is more about having the right attitude than just knowledge or information. I strived hard to improve my knowledge of Economics and Governance. Improving my observation power and gaining statistical knowledge about social problems such as gender issues etc helped me a lot. For example, one should at the back of his mind be aware of figures regarding issues such as child labour, drug menace and road accidents etc. 
What aspects of your personality helped you to crack the exam?
 I am a very flexible person and tend to open up or be reserved as per situation. Being open to ideas and not shying away from taking initiatives is my plus point. I was part of the "Society For Collaborative Research" at IIT and even part of a technical magazine which was published from the campus.  One should not just procrastinate but find roots of problems especially social issues. I guess I became holistically good as I developed both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Being eager and open to learning and thinking that every day is new in terms of learning is a key. One has to become a complete package to crack this exam and that is possible only by forming long and short term goals. The zest to get into IAS is inbuilt and a process that spans over several years. But the formal preparation might just be of a year or two. Rather than just knowing about issues, my strong conviction about things and situations helped me get through this exam.
What efforts did you make to improve your knowledge and communication skills?
I used to record my voice and work on my body language right since my school days. The writing in the IAS exams is very technical and one has to write to the point answers. I always focussed on writing essays and poems. There are no short cuts to success. Rigorous newspaper reading and following current affairs is a must do.
From micro and macro economics to keeping a track of RBI statements, I did a thorough practice to improve my knowledge. Subjects which I also focussed a lot were History and Geography. In the preliminary exam there is an aptitude test for which one has to appear. The Mathematics and logical reasoning is of almost standard X. I would suggest that youth should have the zest to explore the world apart from just gaining formal training. My word to every civil service aspirant is that apart from books, go out in the real world and get a feel of how things work.
Did you undergo any formal coaching and what is your message to civil service aspirants?
While I did not do any formal full-fledged coaching to prepare for the IAS exams but I took part in several mock interviews and tests. My pointed message to youngsters is that writing is very technical in this exam. You ought to write what you are asked to and not what you know. I practiced a lot writing answers of question papers from past years questions. Being good at critical analysis and comparative analysis are tricks of the trade one has to learn prior to appearing in this exam.
This service in itself is inspiring. The authority that you get being in civil service has the powers to solve many problems that exist. My grandfather, despite being illiterate has had a great love for learning and knowledge. He is one of my biggest inspirations and my message to everyone would be to have an inspiration. My days at Tyndale Biscoe, entrance coaching and even days at IIT Mandi helped me widen my horizon. It is very important to have varied experiences of life apart from honing knowledge.   
Going forward what are your plans and how do you see yourself shape up in the civil services?  
Competitive exam is just an entry point to join the service. I am looking for the foundation training and hope that I get  J&K Cadre which I have chosen as my top priority followed by Rajasthan. In terms of areas to work on, I would be keen to be part of infrastructure development. My other area of interest is skill development and I am quite passionate about a large youth population that we have.
I feel youth are the heart and soul of a nation. Once I step into the actual service, I would be fascinated to be associated with the formal skill training and health and education. The world is a competitive place and one has to keep on learning and exploring. Facets such as verbal and non-verbal communication are areas where we have to constantly keep improving. I have stepped into an arena where expectations are high. We are public servants and serving them with utmost zeal and honesty will hold the key.