You must have heard of 15 qualities through various coaching centres, websites, ‘SSBPros’ and even defence officers as well that you need to get through your SSB . However, there is one indispensable quality that no one will ever tell you and it changes the whole game. If you have been to the SSB, cleared the screening and went through the 5-day testing routine, you must have witnessed that the most unexpected person from the group is recommended at the conference. Of course, you cannot predict how they performed in their respective interviews and psychology tests but you can surely tell the person may not be the most active among the group during the group tasks (PGT, HGT etc.) and might not be the most knowledgeable as such. Well in all of my attempts (8 in total, 6 conferences, 1 recommendation), I have seen one common attribute in all of the candidates who were recommended, at least in my groups: they were calm like ice, all the time. Not only during the tests but also during liberty; in the game room; or even at the mess.
Calmness gives you a chance to observe and understand. That is hard to do when the mind is constantly churning and reacting. This is why ‘mindfulness’ and meditation are popular: they slow the mind down and disengage the thinking from the observing, so that the dirt settles out of the water and you can see what is going on. It also helps you to keep more of your insecurities hidden. Everybody has them and it is important that you do not show yours at SSB. So it is self-control practice. In the long run, you will hear more of your own thoughts and less of the echoes of others statements, which you don’t even know if they were genuine or not.
Your mind makes the immediate decisions but your intellect is above your mind. It takes time to respond by intellect means. When you stay calm, you are able to kick off your intellect mind. It helps in making effective decisions.
Being patient and humble is ones natural ability and change cannot be done overnight, in weeks or months. However, there are few things you can do master this skill. Fear, is one of the reasons why people snap and lose their cool under chaotic conditions. And to conquer fear, you must become one (Dialogue credits: Batman begins). As explained in this beautiful video by Will Smith, ‘You have minimum fear at maximum point of danger’, we must learn to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions.
“And be cool”- this is the phrase you must have heard thousands of times and it actually is most potent advice someone can give. Researches have shown that a relaxed mind does not only increases its efficiency but also the physical capability of body as well. Some other techniques that you can implement to be project calmness in day-to-day life:
- Anger and fear are closely related. Let us dig into science of all this: The cerebral cortex (cortex) is the thinking part of the brain where logic and judgment reside. It is the outer portion of the brain and is divided into lobes. Think of the cortex as the strategy center of the brain. The emotional center of the brain is the limbic system (also known as amygdala). It is located lower in the brain and is considered more primitive than the cortex. When someone is experiencing and expressing anger or fear, he or she is not using the thinking (cortex) part of the brain, but primarily, the limbic center of the brain and that certainly hampers our ability to think and make the correct decisions. For further reading about this topic click
- Try to find humor in most adverse of circumstances. If you are capable of this, it is a very big asset. You must have seen many war related Hollywood movies in which the lead tries to lighten the mood by making a joke or two when they are facing the enemies.
- Whenever in conversation with someone, make sure your speed of speaking is in synchronization with your thinking speed. If you are a good speaker and words come naturally to you then no problem, but if you are like me and stutter while speaking, make sure you slow down a little bit and give yourself a moment to think. It is always better to take time than doing ‘aaa’ or ‘mmmm’ or using phrases like ‘you know’.
Now, the difference between a calm person and a person in a total fragile state of mind can be very subtle to observe for us and this is where the assessors apply their skills to break you down. We do hear ‘time’ in every tests like you got 4 minutes to write the story; 40 minutes to this task; rapid fire questions in the interview etc. All this creates a psychological deadline in your mind and that is how the seeds to reveal your true personality are sown.
How can you exert calmness in various stages of testing:
- Story narration: This is probably the most important activity for the screening process as all three of psychologist, Interviewer and GTO are assessing you simultaneously.
- Sit relaxed with your backbone lying firmly with the backrest of your seat. You backbone should not be erect as it shows visible discomfort with the environment and fear (This particular aspect is assessed by the GTO). As a rule of thumb, you should never keep your backbone straight even while facing interviews out of SSBs. (Surprised?)
- Many of you already know this that your hands must be on your knees with palms facing down. However, some candidates force their hands too hard on the knees that it is clearly visible that you are nervous. Do not do that just let them loose.
- Speak each syllable of every word and do not eat up words. This is important as your interviewer assesses this.
- The time given to you is 1 minute. However, you might have realised that it all depends on how your story goes. Therefore, if you are calm and your story has little bit of relevant content you can take all the time in this world to finish your story.
- There is no wrong if you are narrating a mugged up story. Just that, the assessors should not realise that. In order to stop words falling out of your mouth focus on how well are you pronouncing the words, you will automatically calm down.
- Try to keep your pitch lower.
- Group discussions: You undergo four informal discussions during entire SSB. Here, the assessors are checking if you have any negative traits in a social group. Hence, these suggestions contain more of Don’ts than Dos
- Again, sit relaxed with your backbone aligned with the backrest. Only use your neck to speak to the group or listen to someone. Think of yourself tied to the chair with a rope.
- No hand movements and no pointing to anybody. Both of these attributes depict that you are losing your cool because people are not to listening to you.
- This one will be a big surprise especially to those who have attended coaching! Never ever, raise your voice to get your chance to speak. Shouting and yelling shows a weak state of mind and that you are fearful that people are not going to listen to you. In addition, to what I wrote earlier it is all about ‘being cool’ than anything else, your chance will automatically come to you, but only if you are calm, patient and continuously trying to present your point. However, this does not mean you are being a total cow and not trying at all because everyone else is yelling.
- Interview: The interviewer is the head of all three- psychologist, GTO and himself, and he has the final authority in your selection. The interview is also the smallest of tests that you face at SSB and if you get it right, you boost your chances of selection multiple times. Hence, it is necessary to put every step carefully here:
- Get rid of all pre-interview anxiety and do not panic in the interview call up hall. Do not try to find answers to the questions that might be coming up in your mind, as they will make you nervous and lose your confidence. I remember in one of my attempts, in the interview call up hall I suddenly remembered that I forgot to study about the latest arms deal and I was all panicked as that particular question was asked to other candidates of my batch. Seeing me losing my control another candidate asked me what happened and I asked him about the deal. He looked me in the eye and said, “Chill bro, I don’t know either, jo hoga dekha jayega”. The question was not asked to me but it was asked to that person and he answered, “I don’t know” to the interviewer as well. He was recommended and I am writing this article (pun intended).
- When you go up to the chair make sure your walk is normal and you are not creating any haste. Stand tall and make yourself big. The interviewer will catch even a little sight of uneasiness and fear.
- All the points that I mentioned in the point 1 (Story narration) about posture and speaking apply here also.
- Again a shocker, do not do too much of nodding while listening to the interviewer, as this will show that you are not actually listening but pretending to do so.
- Almost all of the rapid-fire questions asked are same every time you will face an interview. You can write them down and mug them. Yup, there is no wrong in that. However, like the story narration part, the interviewer should not find that out. Take appropriate breaks between each question and answer all of them calmly.
- It is not necessary to look down the interviewers eyes for the entire duration of the interview. It is not possible and if you try to do that, your eyes will start shedding tears. Make appropriate breaks in eye contact when you are thinking but never when he is speaking to you or you are speaking to him. Why it is needed to make I contact is obvious and I don’t feel the need to explain it here.
- When you are realise that the interview is about to end do not move or change your position as this will give another hint to the interviewer that you want to get out of the situation. It is an involuntarily action but if you are careful you will avoid doing it.
- Group tasks: This is the test to evaluate your capacity to solve day-to-day problems calmly, work in team and have basic physical fitness.
- To be an officer you need to behave like an officer. It is a test of your problem solving skills so you must produce ideas as many as you can. More you see, more you can analyse the obstacle. For that, you must stay as far from obstacle as you can. Instead of running with helping material here and there and trying to fix the plank at improbable places, come up with the concrete ideas and explain it to your teammates. If it gets accepted then well and good, if not the GTO has your point and that is all what matters. It is enough to give 3-4 ideas during the PGT and out of that, 1-2 will definitely be implemented.
- When the GTO is explaining the obstacle, put your hand on your waist. Such a behaviour shows eagerness to work and preparedness.
- If someone else has given an idea, it is workable, and the group has decided to go with it stop forcing your ideas and calmly go along with the group.
- Never shout while giving your ideas to your group but make sure you are loud enough that the GTO hears you clearly. There is a fine line between shouting and being loud and that is the difference between being nervous and confident.
Therefore, your selection boils down to these final three points:
- Stay calm relaxed and patient: The point of the entire article. If the assessors found that you are able to take stress and function normally then only you will be tested for other qualities. Of course, they are important and trust me all of us has those. We all have been class monitor or held a position of responsibility, be it babysitting, at one point or other in our lives. We are determined and do have the stamina that is why we are going to the SSB (repeatedly), right?
- Build a strong foundation of knowledge: “Khali bartan hi bajta h” (only empty vessel makes noise) is a true saying. In this manner, this is strongly related with the first point. If you are overloaded with knowledge, you will never be afraid that someone might speak your point. You will always have something to speak about if you have knowledge. It goes for lecturette as well; if you have knowledge only correct words will fall out of your mouth, which in turn will make you calm. As you are going to be an officer for the Indian government, the interviewer also expects you to be wise and have sound knowledge of the country and the problems it is facing.
- Do not do anything negative. Probably the most obvious point and probably I should not even mention it. I met with an Officer who was a former GTO at SSB Allahabad for some counselling. He told me a story about a candidate who was excellent all around, tons of awards, sports player, social worker etc. However, at the conference his Psychologist vetoed against his selection because in answer to one of the SRT questions: ‘What will you do if you are in a movie theater and a fire starts?’ he wrote ‘I will go out of the theatre, lock all the doors and watch the fun’. Well, that answer would eliminate you from any job interview let alone SSB but you get the point. However, silly and innocent your mistake might be you are continuously judged and might be the make or break for your selection.
It feels weird to say that your selection at SSB does not need hard work at all rather it is a blend of a clear understanding of procedures, candidates’ inherent qualities, knowledge and a little bit of luck. Now that you know the most important quality needed, there are things you can do to seal your chances.
Written by : Saket Agarwal
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