Never be afraid of taking risk and never ever give up on your dreams!
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): First of all, please tell us about your educational background?
Mutahar Amin Hayat Wattoo (MAHW): I got my early education from Aitchison College, Lahore and completed my O Level and A Level from there. I was an honors student throughout and won numerous prizes in curricular as well as co- and extracurricular activities during my stay at Aitchison.
Then, on account of my exceptional grades, I was offered an academic scholarship by Ohio University, USA for undergraduate studies. Hence, I proceeded abroad and completed my Bachelors in Accounting and Finance from there. I worked with a Swiss Investment Bank, UBS, for a few months but eventually decided to return to Pakistan to take the CSS exam.
JWT: As everyone starts dreaming of a future career in childhood, so what were your dreams? Did you always aspire to be a CSP officer?
MAHW: Well, CSP officers have always inspired and fascinated me. There is great prestige and importance attached to their work, and you can see them working at key positions in Pakistan, and abroad. Since no one in my immediate family was a CSP officer, I didn’t have a role model to emulate. So, I just focused on my studies with the intent of having a solid career path; with CSS only being at the back of my mind. It was only later during my university days that I decided to take the plunge.
JWT: What feature of Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) attracted you most?
MAHW: PAS is a versatile and dynamic service. The exposure you get in various ministries, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, and during foreign postings and training remains unmatched. In PAS, one starts one’s career at grassroots level; learning firsthand about the issues faced by the people, and eventually rises up to the policymaking levels where one can best use one’s experience and abilities to ameliorate the lives of the masses. In addition, PAS gives you an ideal platform to further develop personally as well as professionally.
JWT: How much helpful did you find Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) during your preparation? And, how was your experience at the World Times Institute (WTI)?
MAHW: JWT has now become an essential resource for CSS and PMS preparation. It provides aspirants with loads of relevant material in one place. Not only does it feature articles that deal with themes or issues raised in recent exams, but also presents immensely helpful articles that analytically breakdown the issues. Furthermore, interviews of high-achievers give a lot of hope and inspiration to the prospective aspirants.
As regards my experience at WTI, I would say that it was really satisfying. The teachers at WTI were not only highly proficient in their respective subjects but had also ample experience of guiding CSS aspirants. This is absolutely essential as sans proper guidance, one might end up wasting one’s crucial time. Regular tests and mock exams conducted at WTI helped me to gauge my preparation and make key adjustments in time. The administration, instead of following a rigid routine, schedules lectures as per students’ requirements. This, again, is quite useful as the students can then spend more time on their areas of interest or where they feel they need more help.
Overall, I would highly recommend WTI for CSS preparation.
JWT: What, in your opinion, is the key to making a difference in written part of CSS exam?
MAHW: CSS is indeed the most challenging exam in Pakistan. The competition is fierce with only a few marks making great difference. In such a scenario, the written part of the exam plays a decisive role in one’s final success.
There are three main aspects that candidates must consider for their preparation for the written part. First, for the selection of optional subjects, one must factor in one’s academic background, interests and finally their scoring trend as it is optional subjects that ultimately decide your final score. The second aspect is using only high quality study material for exam preparation. An overwhelming reliance on substandard guides and notes is a recipe for disaster. The third and final aspect is that you must answer the questions with an analytical approach with substantive arguments. Along with that, one should elucidate answers with outlines, headings, quotations, flow charts, etc.
JWT: Generally, compulsory subjects are considered low-scoring, what was your strategy to get through these very papers?
MAHW: I split the compulsory papers into two parts; the first comprised the English papers and the second contained the remaining four papers. For English papers, I did only one thing — practice, practice and practice. There are no shortcuts to passing these papers and one must remain in constant touch with English . It is only through continuous practice that one can improve one’s expression, writing style and analytical abilities.
For the second group, my strategy remained the same as that for optional subjects. I used diverse, authentic resources that provided different viewpoints and approaches to issues and then I incorporated those in my answers.
JWT: What were the toughest and the easiest parts in the whole process of CSS exam?
MAHW: The toughest part was the time aspect as doing CSS is a long-drawn-out affair. It takes almost a year and a half after the written exam to know if you have actually made it or not. And, God forbid if you haven’t, you have to start afresh. It is extremely debilitating for you to see your school and university fellows moving on with their lives while you remain in perpetual exam mode.
The easiest part for me, however, was the interview. Since I have had a considerable experience in giving interviews both in the US and in Pakistan, I knew what was required from me. Moreover, I had a strong résumé that I could count on. Lastly, even in my previous attempt I had managed to secure 195 marks, so I was confident that I would do even better this time.
JWT: Anything important about your CSS journey you want to share with the aspirants.
MAHW: Never be afraid of taking risk and never ever give up on your dreams! I was in the US with a stable career path ahead but I decided to be a CSP officer and remained committed to my goal till I finally achieved it. Although, I could not make it in my earlier attempts — falling just short — yet I persevered. I had offers for Masters from foreign universities as well as job offers in hand, but I realized that while I could always pursue other endeavours later on in life, I would never be able to get a chance to be a CSP again. This is what kept me going and the Almighty finally blessed me with this great success.
JWT: Who deserves the credit for your success?
MAHW: First and foremost, I must thank Almighty Allah as without His benevolence, my success would not have been possible. Then, the credit for my success goes to my parents – my mother for all her prayers and support, and my father for motivating me to pursue my goal single-mindedly. And finally, I must also thank all my teachers for their immense support and guidance.
JWT: What distinguishes you from other successful candidates?
MAHW: I think my diverse academic and professional experience helped me stand out from amongst other candidates. Apart from my foreign experience, I worked for almost four years as an Assistant Director in LDA, where I remained posted on the Metro Bus and LDA Housing projects. This professional experience helped me come across as a mature and experienced candidate who knew about the nitty-gritty and the practical knowhow of working in a large public sector organization.
My Interview Experience
It was exceptional. Although I had given a few interviews before, I feel this perhaps was my best. Since I was asked an eclectic mix of questions, I had to be at my wits’ end throughout the process. Topics or themes were switched rapidly to get me out of my comfort zone but I feel I handled them well. Since I had stayed in the US for five years, I was asked questions about Donald Trump’s avowed policies vis-à-vis Pakistan, the agenda of neo-conservatives, the role of US bureaucracy, the difference in agricultural policies of US and Third World countries like India and Pakistan. Similarly, there were questions regarding my work experience, e.g. the need for reforms in development authorities and the bottlenecks that prevent those reforms, the cons of urbanization and the problem of overlapping powers between various civic authorities. Then questions from current issues of national importance such as the Women Harassment Bill, Kissan Package, the conduct of census, local governments, etc., were also asked. There were token questions from Islamiat and Pakistan Affairs as well; however, they were factual in nature.
Overall, I felt, I did quite well. The panel seemed quite satisfied with my answers and in the end the Chairman complimented me on my knowledge and confidence and commended me for doing well.
Advice for the fresh aspirants
Stay motivated and dedicated to your task, and do give it your best shot. Don’t lose hope even if things do not go as planned. Year after year we see students from the remotest corners of the country getting allocated to top groups. So there is no reason to not do well if one perseveres.
Secondly, once you have decided to take the plunge, plan ahead and tackle your deficiencies head first. Try to take mock exams as well so you have a feel for the real one.