Armed forces offer very exciting career to young men and women in several fields. Career in the forces, in addition as a career, is also an adventure in itself. To ensure that appropriate candidates are chosen, a comprehensive selection process is adopted by the armed forces through Service Selection Board (SSB) interview. This system of selection is based on the “trait theory” of leadership which assumes that every leader must have some specific and pre-determined leadership traits. It also presumes that such traits can be acquired by a candidate with the passage of time meaning thereby that a person once rejected in an SSB interview is likely to succeed if he acquires some of the traits with the passage of time. The present system of selection, although is long and takes four to five days, is thus based on an objective assessment of each candidate in which the qualities like initiative, alertness, judgement, courage, physical fitness endurance, cooperation, group planning, decisiveness, knowledge, etc. are judged. In addition, psychological and mental robustness of the candidate vis-a-vis requirements of the Armed Forces is judged and finally an overall assessment of the personality of a candidate is made by way of an exhaustive personal interview.
Scheme of Selection
The existing scheme of selection was initially designed in the US army, after the second World War. The system was adopted in the selection of officers in Army, Navy and Air Force for induction through National Defence Academy, Army Cadet Corps, Officers Training Academy, Indian Military Academy, Air Force Academy or Naval Academy.
The selection process has the following stages/components.
(a) Psychological/Intelligence Test.
(b) Group Testing Officer’s (GTO’s) Test.
(c) Personal Interview.
(d) Medical Examination.
It is evident that the interview is mainly confined to first three stages of examination while the fourth one concerns the medical examination of only those who get through in the SSB interview comprising of first three components. Evaluation of a candidate is made by three independent examiners. The psychological test is carried out by a psychologist and GTO test is given by a Group Testing Officer (GTO). Personal interview is carried out by the interviewing officer who usually is also the President of the Board.
The interview being an integrated process, culminates with the conference on the final day when all the three examiners get together to give the final assessment of the candidate. If there is any doubt on any aspect of the personality of the candidate, a few questions are put to him/her and the evaluation is done accordingly. All the candidates who manage to obtain minimum prescribed marks are declared selected. There is no quota or percentage fixed about the number of candidates to be selected and the selection purely depends on the performance of the individuals. The selected candidates then have to undergo a comprehensive medical examination to be finally recommended for selection.
Through this series of features on careers an effort is being made to acquaint the candidates, particularly the fresh candidates, with the techniques of SSB interviews and strategy to be adopted to overcome this final hurdle to a challenging career in the defence forces. In the first part of this series, psychological tests are being dealt with in detail.
The scheme of selection is almost same for Army, Navy and Air Force with the only difference that in case of interviews for the flying branch of Air Force, an additional aptitude test is given to the candidates right at the beginning. The interview usually lasts for four to five days and the arrangements for free boarding and lodging are made for the candidates. Moreover, the candidates appearing before the Board for the first time are entitled to claim travelling allowance for to-and-fro journey up to the selection centre.
Immediately on arrival at the Selection Board a questionnaire is given to all the candidates in which, in addition to personal details, including educational qualifications and details of family, hobbies, games and other extra curricular activities, details about other important happenings in life, friends, ambitions, etc are also sought from the candidates. This questionnaire usually forms the basis for interview. This part also assumes importance, considering the fact that it is of importance to a psychologist to know what a candidate thinks of oneself.
(a) Intelligence Tests: First and important part of psychological tests is the intelligence test. There are two types of intelligence tests. In the first, usually 80 questions are required to be answered within 30 or 35 minutes. The time is lesser for the second in which 60 questions on figures are required to be answered in 20 to 25 minutes. This test presumes that even under adverse circumstances an intelligent person will be able to answer more number of questions accurately. The questions are objective type with multiple choice answers.
To attempt maximum number of questions correctly, the candidates are advised to attempt those questions to start with, about which they are fully sure. The questions which need some more time to answer, must be skipped initially and if after attempting other questions there is some time left, it can then be devoted to the left-out questions. Exhaustive practice in these tests, which appear regularly in the Competition Master, can be of great help in attempting the intelligence tests effectively. A candidate who achieves a good score in these tests may get the benefit of being placed higher in the order of merit if he/she finally makes it in the interview.
(b) Word Association Test:This test aims at judging the personality traits and basic psychology of a candidate. It brings out attitudes, thoughts, desires, feelings and even negative aspects of one’s personality. For testing the word association, candidates are shown a word of common usage for about 15 seconds, during which time candidates are supposed to write a sentence. After 15 seconds are over, another word is exposed for 15 seconds, the process continues and candidates are asked to write 50 sentences. The words are easy and of day-to-day usage. Time given to the candidates is so short that they have to write down the very first thought that comes after seeing the word. The psychologists analyse the personality traits, attitudes and feelings on the basis of these natural reactions of the candidates to specific words.
There can be no ready-made solutions to the word association test. However, with a little bit of practice the candidates can choose correct sentence. The pessimistic, negative, pervert and counter-productive feelings must be avoided whereas positive feelings of success, honesty, respectfulness, uprightness, optimism, humanism, etc should be highlighted. For example, the word “failure”, can be used as “Failure cannot always be avoided”, or “Failures are the pillars of success”. Whereas the former sentence depicts pessimism and defeat, the latter sentence shows how a negative word can also be used in a positive manner. On similar lines the candidates must prepare himself beforehand for words like defeat, death, disease wrong, etc. It must be ensured that the sentences used are small and convey some positive aspect of one’s psyche. Due care must be taken to ensure that the sentences do not depict the feeling of fear, insecurity, anxiety, cowardice, etc. To do well in this test the candidates must practice with several sets of words and do the self appraisal.
(c) Thematic Apperception Test (TAT): This technique, also called picture story writing, is one of the most important aspects of psychological test at SSBs. This technique aims at judging the overall personality of a candidate by judging the traits like fearlessness, positive frame of mind, initiative, judgement, courage, temperament, ambitions, and more particularly candidates’ suitability for the armed forces. This test is conducted by showing several slides/pictures (usually ten) to the candidate for a short while. Then he is asked to write a small story on the picture. The picture is shown for 30 seconds and the candidate is given a time of 3 minutes for writing a brief story. Needless to say that the time duration is very less and the candidates must think and write fast to complete the story within the stipulated time.
The candidates need special practice to attempt this test successfully. It must be clearly understood that the story which is written by the candidates, depicts their own thoughts, perceptions and imaginations. Hence the initial 30-second time while the picture is displayed, must be utilised in most useful manner. After devoting minimum possible time for understanding the picture, the candidate should appreciate the situation, identify the hero of the story and prepare a simple but well thought of plot for the story. The plot should be simple considering the fact that the story has to be written within 3-minutes. The planned story should depict the feelings of courage, success, hard-work, initiative, ambition, achievement, helpfulness, patriotism and positive bent of mind. It should be ensured that no unnecessary time is wasted in describing the picture. The picture only depicts one of the situations which could form part of the story. It is pertinent to add that candidates may expect at least one picture each about hospital scene, war, road accident, a captive lady, a frustrated youth, a river, a thief, a graveyard, etc. There may be a few vague pictures also. Practice on writing stories on above situation/pictures would assist the candidates to do well in this test.
(d) Situation Reaction Test (SRT): This is last in the series of psychological tests. In the SRT, the candidates are given 4 to 5 reactions to a particular day-to-day situation and the candidates are asked to choose the most appropriate one. This test aims at judging a candidate’s aptitude towards cooperation, group interests and positive thinking. No answer is out-rightly incorrect or correct. The candidates get weighted marks depending on the degree of correctness of an answer. In all 50 to 60 situations have to be reacted upon in 25 to 30 minutes. The candidates must exercise due care while choosing the alternatives as two to three alternatives may appear to be correct. The answer which appears to be the best in a real life situation must be chosen. Initially, questions appearing easier to answer should be chosen and the candidates should avoid conflicting replies and be considered.
The second part of the interview contains Group Testing Officer’s (GTO’s) Test. While the first part aims at testing the intelligence and frame of mind of a candidate, the GTO’s test is a complete test of one’s personality, including physical fitness, mental obtuseness, leadership qualities, planning flexibility, expression, knowledge, argumentative capabilities, etc. In other words, the performance of every candidate is gauged as a member of a group, and leader of the group, so that his/her behaviour as equal, superior or subordinate is keenly observed and assessed. The group worthiness of a candidate is tested.
The GTO’s test includes the following six broad sub-tests:
Group planning exercise
Candidates are divided in groups of 8 to 10 and each group is tested by a GTO. Usually two topics of general interest are given by the GTO to the group and the group is asked to choose one of the topics, on the basis of which the group is asked to proceed with discussion. Every candidate is supposed to express his opinion and views on the topic given. The time for discussion is approximately 20 minutes. After the discussion on the first topic is closed, GTO gives the second topic. During the discussion, the GTO quietly observes the performance and behaviour of the candidates and makes his own assessment.
The group discussion tests the expression, argumentative capabilities, depth of knowledge, initiative, flexibility, participation and authenticity of a candidate. The candidates must comprehend the topic properly, carry out a mental framework of line of discussion to be pursued and plan the discussion quickly. It is always better to take the initiative to start the discussion. Self confidence, clarity in expression, appreciation of opinion of others, keen interest, flexibility and knowledge are some of the properties which are sought by the GTO. Proper tone, volume and level of voice are other important aspects of a good candidate. To do well at group discussions, it is suggested that the candidates should prepare well by selecting certain topics of general interest like role of science, democracy, role of women, sports, evils of dowry, family planning, compulsory military training, students and politics, status of Indian women, etc.
Group Planning Exercise
Under the group planning exercise, a situation is given to the candidates usually on a sand model or cloth model. Each candidate is given the situation in which some problem like taking a patient to hospital within stipulated time, reporting the matter to the police or any other situation is depicted and certain facilities as well as limitations are explained. Considering these given limitations and facilities, the candidates are required to prepare a plan to successfully accomplish the task. The time allotted to the candidates, to write down the solution, is about 10 minutes. Soon after writing down the solution, the group is asked to discuss the solutions and arrive at a group plan. The group then nominates a leader who gets up and gives the group plan. After this, others are also asked to give their plans if there is some material difference in the plan. For this exercise a further time of about 20 minutes is given. The test is planned to test the understanding and analytical capability of the candidates. In addition, in a group where no one is nominated a group leader, opportunity is provided to the natural leaders to emerge as leaders and take over the reins of the group. The individual plan tests the analytical ability and the discussion of the group plan sees whether the candidate is prepared to accept a superior plan over his plan or he is able to convince the group about superiority of his plan against an inferior plan being considered by the group. The candidates must properly appreciate the problem, take stock of the resources available with them and then try to generate some alternatives in the given situation. After considering the pros and cons of every alternative, best alternative should be accepted. By actively participating in the group plan discussion, the candidates should try to get themselves nominated as the group leader to get an edge over the other candidates.
Next part of GTO’s fest is the group obstacles. It has four sub-parts including Progressive Group Task, Group Obstacle Race, Half Group Task and Final Group Task. These tasks are designed to test the behaviour of a candidate in a group where there are no group leaders nominated. The GTO, therefore, keenly observes the candidates for their qualities like cooperation, group belonging feelings, natural leadership qualities, planning, initiative and task orientation. Group obstacles in all the four sub-parts are in the form of obstacles which cannot be negotiated by an individual and need a group of persons to cross it. The group is explained that within the obstacle area, in which particular parts are “out of bounds”, the entire group has to cross the obstacle within a given period of time with the assistance of tools like ropes, planks, wooden logs, etc. The progressive group task has four tasks with each successive task getting tougher and final group task is the repeat exercise to facilitate the GTO to observe only the potential candidates.
The group obstacle race is in the form of an inter-group race in which they also have to carry a sack type of load while crossing the obstacles. Half group task is given by dividing the group into two sub-groups, facilitating the GTO in observing the candidates in a better manner. While crossing these obstacles, or planning to cross these, the candidates should think objectively to negotiate the obstacles with the help of given material. There are usually more than one solution to each obstacle. Immediately on getting the solution, the candidates must start asserting themselves by also seeking advice and suggestions of other candidates. Even if the candidate is unable to arrive at any solution he should try to assume the role of a mediator between several candidates having diverse solutions. Even while actually negotiating the obstacle endeavour should be to take on the most difficult tasks so that an impression of task orientation and leading by example is created in the mind of the GTO.
Command Task is aimed at testing the leadership and command capabilities of candidates. In all the earlier exercises, the natural leaders are allowed to emerge. But in some cases, where there are more than one natural leaders, the strongest one will overshadow rest of them. Similarly, a person who is shy by nature, may not be able to exhibit his leadership qualities in a group of equals and hence an opportunity is given to such candidates to show their worth in a formalised situation, where they are declared leaders. In the command task the nature of obstacles and facilitating material remain the same. The only change is that one candidate is nominated as a formal leader, asked to choose his team, plans to negotiate the obstacle and finally executes the plan. The candidate’s judgement, planning and analytical capabilities are checked and his capabilities to get a task executed are also tested. The candidate must, therefore, choose his team carefully, choosing the best candidates who are cooperative and physically strong. This reflects his objective assessment of subordinates. Then the leader must explain to his men the objective or task, the facilitating material available to them and spell out the plan as to how he planned to accomplish the task. The plan should be clear and spelt out in clear and commanding manner. After explaining the task to his men, the leader should go ahead with the proper execution of the task by properly supervising and giving supplementary instructions if required. Normally, the work should be got executed from the chosen candidates, but in case some part of obstacle negotiation needs his assistance, he should be ready to do so. At times, the commander may find it difficult to plan a solution to the obstacle. Under such a situation, the commander may ask the members of the group to suggest to him the possible solution.
There are 10 obstacles which are required to be negotiated by every individual within a stipulated period of 3 minutes. The obstacles are not very tough and can be negotiated by any candidate with average physical fitness. These obstacles include climbing ropes, jumping, swinging on ropes, climbing wall, walking over a beam and parallel ropes, etc. The relatively difficult obstacles carry higher marks and easier ones have lesser. In case a candidate can repeat some of the obstacles, after completing all in the given time period, such a candidate gets more than maximum marks to the extent of repetition of obstacles. To do well at this test, the candidate must try to achieve a particular level of physical fitness before proceeding to the SSB interviews. Easier obstacles should be attempted first and even if one is unable to complete all the obstacles within three minutes, one should be satisfied as in the words of one GTO “armed forces need officers, not monkeys”. Nevertheless, this test aims at looking for bare minimum level of physical fitness, which can be built up by rigorous pre-commission training in the Training Acadmeies.
Lecturette is last in the series of GTO’s tests and is aimed at testing the speech of a candidate. A leader should be able to speak effectively, attract attention while he is talking, have a clear head and clear line of thinking. These qualities are tested by giving a small test to the candidates known as lecturette. This candidate is given about four topic of general nature which do not need any specialised knowledge. The candidates are required to select one topic, prepare for three minutes and then deliver a speech to the group for a period of three minutes. While taking this test, the candidate must select the subject/topic on which he is fully confident of having enough knowledge and material to speak for three minutes. Unnecessary movements of hands, legs, fingers etc should be avoided and the speech should be delivered in a pleasant but authoritative voice. The views expressed should be balanced and extreme positions in views should be avoided. The clarity of thoughts and ideas must be insured.
It is evident from the above that the GTO’s test is a comprehensive test of one’s personality. An objective assessment of personality of the candidates is made by observing their behaviour in a group and as a leader as well. Capabilities of the candidates like knowledge, expression, leadership, initiative, physical fitness, planning capabilities, understanding, disposition, grasp and task orientation, etc are tested by following a comprehensive and objective method of personality test. The GTO makes the assessment by assigning marks in each of the six exercises and then finally allots the aggregate marks on the basis of overall average assessment.
Personal interview is the last hurdle in the selection process to the defence forces through SSB Interviews, apart from the medical examination. Every candidate is tested by a psychologist, G.T.O. and finally by the President or Deputy President of the Selection Board.
The aim of the personal interview is to have a closer look at the personality of every candidate through conversation in friendly discussion. To keep the interview formal and the candidate at ease, only one interviewer interacts with the candidate. The information given by the candidate, on the very first day in the questionnaire, forms the initial basis for questions during the course of interview.
At an average, every interview lasts about 30-40 minutes. The President of the Board begins in a very friendly manner by asking very personal questions from the candidates like name, detail of the brothers and sisters, occupation of parents, names of good friends, place to which the candidate belonged. About 10 minutes-time is devoted on these questions so that the candidate is put at ease. Name of the educational institutions where one studied, subjects offered, marks obtained etc are a few other questions that may be initially expected. In addition to putting a candidate at ease, the President also observes the qualities of friendliness and the ease with which one can handle simple and personal questions. Other questions in the interview may be about games played, hobbies, girl/boy friends and the means adopted by the candidate to remain fit. As a young and educated person, one is expected to either play or have keen interest in some games. Similarly, every person is expected to have a hobby, be it reading, playing games, swimming, driving, gardening, philately, riding, photography or travelling. Every young candidate, aspiring to become an officer in the armed forces, is also expected to have friendship with the opposite sex. Hence all these questions must be answered accordingly.
Final part of the personal interview may include a few questions on current topics, general knowledge, some imaginary situation for reaction and small simple problems for judging the administrative planning capabilities of the candidate. Problem solving may be judged by depicting a simple real-life imaginary situation involving the brothers, sisters, parents or friends to which reaction of the candidate is judged. Similarly, a small administrative problem may be given to a candidate including organisation of a match or a picnic. The candidate is then asked to give his/her step by step planning and execution and perception of happening of the event, without its actually taking place.
How to tackle?
As has been hinted above, the questions in the interview must be tackled very carefully. The candidates should not be in a hurry to reply the questions. The questions should be properly understood and after considering the contents for a while, reply should be given. Regarding personal questions, the candidates should be careful that they do not hide material facts or try to give wrong facts. It must be understood clearly that the President conducting the inverview handles several candidates every day and does the same thing over the years. Moreover, he is trained to interview candidates in such a manner as the truth comes out. Any attempt to hide some facts or give wrong facts will be certainly picked up by the experienced President and they usually make the candidate realise during the interview itself that he/she was trying to bluff. Moreover, no candidate is expected to be perfect, as every human being does have some weaknesses. However, it should also be ensured that no unnecessary details are given by the candidate. The replies should be to the point and relevant to the questions asked.
The same principle applies to the other questions like games played, hobbies pursued and friends (particularly from the opposite sex) held. The games which are stated to be played by the candidate should be ones about which the candidate has complete knowledge and is able to reply to most of the questions. Similarly, the interviewer devotes a lot of time to the hobby named by the candidate. The candidates must, therefore, make sure that the hobbies and games they name must be fully known to them. Rather than bluffing in this regard, it is better to give a negative reply. Moreover, as earlier pointed out it is good to have friends from the opposite sex with healthy and friendly relations. But in case there is no such friend, the fact should be admitted without hesitation.
Finally, the questions on current affairs and general knowledge need a little-bit of brushing up of knowledge in this field. Candidates who feel less confident in this part are advised to consult the General Knowledge Refresher by O.P. Khanna.
The questions on the reactions in given situations have to be handled very carefully. The candidates must grasp situation completely, clarify the doubts if any and after taking some time to think, come out clearly with the course of action. Choosing a right course of action is not very difficult. The candidates must imagine themselves in similar situation and consider the most probable course of action which would be taken by them, which invariably is also the right solution to the problem. In their reactions, the candidates must not bring in any artificiality and unnecessary heroism. They should react as if they would have done in a similar real life situation. Due care, therefore, must be exercised as this is one of the most crucial aspects of the interview. Two more questions which must be prepared properly are (a) “Why do you want to join the Defence Forces?”; (b) “If you are not selected what would you do?” These are often-repeated questions and must be answered very honestly and correctly, without any exaggeration.
While proper replies to the questions are important balanced conduct of the candidates is still more important. The candidates should avoid use of slangs and be very respectful to interviewer. Use of language and expression are the plus points but the candidates are usually not penalised for weak expression, as it is believed that the problems of fluency and expression are overcome during the training period. The candidates must be composed and maintain their poise. Lack of confidence in replying to the questions reflects lack of knowledge and self-confidence. At the same time one must not be over confident or arrogant.
The interviewers are trained to identify the signals sent by the body language along with the spoken word. Whatever is spoken from the mouth must be reflected from the eyes of the candidate as well the tone of his/her voice. Hence, body language must be controlled to convey the same meaning as the word of the mouth. Any contradiction reveals the untruthful intention of the candidate. It should, however, be kept in mind that no unnecessary gesticulations are made with hands and sitting posture is also proper, as recommended for the interviews.
The appearance and bearing of the candidate helps in making a good first impression. The clothes need not be new or highly fashionable and bright, but should be sober and properly cleaned. Hair should be properly groomed and hands should be properly cleaned with the nails cleanly cut. While describing their achievements, the candidates should be modest without being boastful and while admitting weaknesses and failures, they should not be ashamed or evasive. There must be eye-contact with the interviewer for most part of the interview.
The last stage in the selection process is the conference which takes place on the last day. During the earlier three stages, three selectors i.e. the psychologist, G.T.O. and the President carry out their tests independently. At the conference all the three selectors sit together, call the interviewee and ask two-three formal and routine questions. Candidates who qualify in all the three tests independently are declared successful. All those failing in all or any two are declared unsuccessful. A few candidates marginally failing in one of the tests, may expect a couple of more absorbing questions, including a situation, and on the basis of reply offered by the candidate, final decision about his/her selection is taken. The result is announced soon after the conclusion of the conference and all those who are selected are required to stay back for the medical examination, which takes another three to four days.
The selected candidates are then required to undergo medical examination. Prior to the medical examination, a form is given to the candidates to be filled which mainly relates to the past medical history of the candidate as well as his/her members of the family. The candidates who pass all the medical tests are finally declared as successful and may expect a call to join the training academy concerned within a month or two of the selection. However, the call letters are issued after clubbing the marks obtained in the written examination of the UPSC as well as marks obtained in the interview. At times it may so happen that even a candidate getting through in the interview finally, may not get a call to join at the concerned training academy if the number of vacancies is less or the candidate is very low in the order of merit. Hence, the candidates are advised not to leave their studies or jobs till they receive a call to join at the training academy concerned.