My SSB Experience

Lt Sameer Dev Singh Pawar.
To begin with, I would like to tell all the aspirants who are looking forward to appearing in the SSB that what I am sharing with you is a personal experience of me getting a chance to attend and clear 3 SSB interviews for different entries in the armed forces. In no way should it be taken as a guide of Dos and Don’ts, because if you do it, it could be your personal loss altogether as SSB is a mirror of your personality and if your mirror reflects my personality then your selection will prove to be a difficult task! It is not like those orthodox accounts of SSB experiences but just one written in lighter vein. The first SSB I had the chance of appearing for was at Vizag for Indian Navy TES Entry. The second and the third was at Bhopal. The second was for Army TES Entry and the third for NDA. The procedure underway for all the three was more or less the same with only the number of selected aspirants coming for STAGE 1 Screening being considerably more for TES Entry (around 300 in both) than NDA (just 60). Instead of going through the procedure of all three SSBs which is more or less the same I will narrate some of the incidents which might guide you and help you understand the mistakes you might or might not have made in your earlier attempts and which will help you understand the school of thought once you appear for your SSBs. Once again before I begin, I would like to tell you to keep at the back of your mind the fact that I am just sharing my experiences and what I THINK would have happened. There is no way of proving that what I did was correct and that is the reason for me being selected. After all there is no right or wrong in SSB, It is Just You!
When I reported for my first SSB at Vizag, I had no idea about Navy or even about Vizag. Belonging to the state of J&K and being brought up in a family which has been serving the Royal Dogra Army of the State (State Forces), from centuries uncountable and continues to do so (now Jammu and Kashmir Rifles), I had no experience with the blue water Navy of our country. I had brushed up my bookish knowledge about the Navy but that knowledge was not enough obviously. At the gate itself I saw another one of the aspirants getting off from a motorcycle being driven by his father in Navy uniform, which I later came to know was in Indian Navy and posted at Vizag. I immediately struck friendship with him. The takeaways were;-
(a) I, in no way want to show that I had displayed the often emphasized OLQ of Initiative; I just had three reasons for striking a friendship. (i) Knowing more about the Navy. (ii) Even before documentation had begun, I already had someone to talk to thus not giving me time to be nervous as one feels before any interview and most importantly (iii) since he got off from a motorcycle, I quickly understood that he might be a localite and will help me kill my cravings for those famous fish dishes in Vizag and help me roam around the city.
(b) As the luck would have it, his father was posted in Vizag itself which in many instances proved helpful to me. So, my only point here is that never be afraid of getting to know people, some of these friendships might last long enough like ours. He might not help you kill your cravings but you will surely learn a lot from him because in a diverse country like ours people with different cultures might actually teach you a thing or two.
(c) All in all, I really had a great time especially due to the fact that both of us became quite good friends and seeing us the only one’s relatable to, we in turn together made a lot of friends. Incidentally of the 5 of us close friends in staying together in the room, 3 of us got selected!
Screening is one test which actually a lot of candidates are scared of especially for those appearing in Technical Entry courses because just the sheer number, 300 or so, reporting to the Centre makes them nervous. Also, the time available to every group for the discussion is very less and often aspirants feel that they get very less time to make an impression. The takeaways are;- (i) Screening is a sieving process, therefore the picture for discussion is mostly a blurry one. One which the invigilators purposely select so that they can be quick in sieve out the hay from the grain. I clearly remember not being able to write more than 7 lines in all three of my screening tests. What I wanted to do was take out such a detail from the picture which no one from the group would have seen, and not just one but more so that if someone else already points out that detail I might have something else to base my story around. (ii) No one from the selectors, in the screening process, has time to read your story. Those who have attended such a screening would have observed, whenever you speak something the invigilators take out your sheet and just glance through it. Before this they do not even have time to look at your script. This is my experience and what they do in your case depends entirely on them and what you do depends upon you.
When I appeared for my interview in Vizag, the Interviewing Officer (IO) asked me why I wanted to join Navy. I bluntly answered that I did not want to join Navy and this was simply my backup plan if I did not get through my NDA SSB which was always my first option. The takeaways are:- (i) When I came out and my other friends who were waiting outside for their turn asked me what I was asked (as is the general trend) I told them about this incident which happened inside and my blunt reply. They seemed to be quite taken aback from my answer which I could sense from their reactions but refrained from saying anything lest they are hurt. (ii) In my mind however I knew that I had done the right thing. My whole family had for long been related to Army with my father still being in service. Both of these facts were amply clear to the IO and also had been brought up during the interview. So, to have lied and said that I will join Navy over Army just because I was sitting for Navy TES interview, I thought would have gone against me. Whereas you could have your own opinion. (iii) In the conference again my IO, who I then realised was also the Presirdent of the Board, asked if I had changed my opinion after enjoying 5 days of Navy hospitality to which I replied that I had not. This however was taken in lighter vein by everyone as I could see everyone smiling!
PIQ form is an important part of your entire SSB process. It is the PIQ form on the basis of which the Psychologist judges you and he/she never really meets you until maybe the last day of Conference. The GTO and IO also read your PIQ and form a very generic image about you before they meet you. The image becomes clearer as they spend time with you. The takeaways are:- (i) Try to be as descriptive about yourself as the form allows. Most of your interview might be based on the information in the PIQ. If you tell little about yourself it gives a chance to the IO to ask questions which you might regret later. (ii) Do not lie in your PIQ,. I have seen instances where the IO has asked the candidates to get/show photos verifying their claims in the Conference. (iii) You can practice for filling up your PIQ before SSB. I think this is the only one thing in SSB which you can prepare for beforehand. I however did not do it but I guess I should have, once I got to know that the format is available online.
In the interview for my NDA SSB, the IO told me to Get Out of his room thrice and also called me back each time when I reached the exit door! (this actually did happen). The takeaways are:- (i) Every time I answered the question, he told me to keep quiet as I was wrong even though I was very confident that it was right. Nevertheless I did not argue with him. (ii) After my interview I was depressed. At the same time I was a little analytical about the proceedings of the interview as to where I could have gone wrong. At the first chance I gave a call to my Tato ji who had been a GTO before, to discuss the interview with him and asked him if there was anything that I had missed. He promptly replied that it was just one of the techniques of the IO and since I had already been recommended from 2 SSBs, he might just be having a little fun with me. He told me not to think about the interview and concentrate on the rest of my tests.
When I appeared for my Army TES interview, the IO asked me that if I had to measure the height of Qutub Minar how would I do it? After tackling the question in every possible mathematical way the IO still wanted me to tell him more methods, maybe I was not able to give the answer he expected .Unable to run my mind through any of the other methods, I said that I will either google the height of Qutub Minar or ask the other people around. The IO smiled. The takeaways are:- (i) I don’t think that the services are looking for scientists. As everybody says they are just looking for trainable minds. It does not however envisage that you go completely blank for your SSBs and purposely do not give answer to the questions asked by the IO. (i) It certainly does not mean that you try and act funny in front of the IO. I might have been lucky. And had the stars not aligned in my favour that particular day, the IO could have taken it otherwise and it may all have been downhill from there. The story may have been different.
I spoke only twice or thrice during the Group Discussions (GD) but made it a point that everyone listened to me or when the group was exhausted with their ideas and the discussion needed a new direction. The takeaways are:- (i) I will not be generic and say ‘always’ but more than often the topics for GDs do not have a right or wrong. The GTO is just looking for your personal views. So do not waste your time in incessantly stressing on only your point. (ii) GDs are mostly held before the Military Planning Exercise (MPE). What I have seen is that in all my three SSBs is that the GTO was not actually paying attention in our GDs but was very interested in our MPE. He often interjected with our ideas. In my opinion GD is a base for you to make your place in the group. If the group feels that you are somewhat smart and have right planning skills, they will go with your plan in the MPE. All in all, the SSB is a great experience. I was fortunate enough to have gone through it thrice and being recommended all three times. I would never say that what I did was correct or because I did this and got selected or if had done that I would not have been selected.
When my friends or acquaintances ask me how I cleared three SSBs, I tell them that honestly I do/did not know. I am sure this would be the answer which all candidates who clear SSB would be giving. Another advice would be to enjoy your time at the Centre. There was not one evening which I spent at the Centre when I was appearing for my SSBs. Who knows, you might never get a chance to visit that particular city again in your lifetime. The matter of fact remains the same that there is No Right or No Wrong answer in SSB. Rest is for you to experience.
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