How to prepare for the American India Foundation’s Banyan Impact Fellowship Interview?

An illustration of candidates waiting for interview.

Having done a fair share of interviews with various social impact organizations, one thing that has remained consistent throughout the interviews is the panelists’ curiosity to learn about our personal connections to the causes we believe in and strive to work for.

Through my fellowship host organization, Fair Trade Forum-India, I also had the opportunity to be on the other side and work as a recruiter and interviewer, which opened my eyes to a lot of things. Maybe without this experience, I’d have never known what the recruiter is looking for in you, especially in the social impact sector.

Serve, learn and lead: The AIF’s motto is “serve, learn, and lead.” Serving, learning, and leading can all mean different things to different people. Especially when we have diverse experiences and backgrounds. One thing that AIF considers and values are the diversity that each and every applicant brings to the table through their application, so don’t hold back. Discuss what it means to you to serve, learn, and lead. Discuss times in your life when you demonstrated these values.

You could, for example, discuss a time when you mentored a junior in college or led the development of a school/college project. It is not necessary to provide work-related examples; instead, keep your horizon broad and allow AIF to see through your personality. It’s always important to let your enthusiasm shine through to come off as a fitting candidate for this service-leadership model fellowship.

Don’t forget to discuss what inspired you to apply for AIF, why this motto is important to you, and how your values and expectations from AIF align with the same.

Core values: Every human being has a few core ethics or values that they hold dear. Gender equity, honesty, consistency, or anything else that speaks to them.

While answering the questions that the panelists may ask you, it is important to mention the values that are important to you and why. It is critical to understand that this is not a typical job interview; rather, it is an interview to select a future changemaker and leader within the social impact sector – so do not limit yourself to just professional achievements or values that remain with you; rather, show the panelists your potential and personal values that stand out about you.

Thorough with your application essays: Your application is your holy book or let’s be dramatic here and say it is your direct ticket to heaven when it comes to your interview!

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be thorough with your application essays. Your entire interview will be shaped by the application essays you submit. Make sure you’re familiar with what you’ve written in your application and that you’re prepared to provide detailed explanations for anything that will be asked of it. This is one of the most important things you should do!! (I wish I could use a hundred exclamation marks to address the importance of this step.)

Personal relationship to your target social cause: When you’re being interviewed for a position with a social impact organization, the question of what your personal interests are in the social sector is inevitable.

This tip has always helped me stand out as a candidate and is something I look for in every candidate I interview: your personal reason or relationship with the social cause you want to work in.

The personal connection to your passion demonstrates to the interviewers your personal dedication to the social issue for which you wish to work. You can impress a panel with your professional interests, but mentioning your personal interest in the same can put you ahead of the game.

Leadership skills in you: Since one of the primary goals of the AIF fellowship is to develop one’s leadership potential, it is critical for a candidate to demonstrate his/her/their leadership abilities.

Leadership abilities come in a variety of sizes and shapes, such as team management, problem-solving, decisiveness, and so on.

Simply demonstrate your skills and provide examples of when you used these abilities in a leadership position. Examples are a great way to distinguish yourself from other candidates.

Communication skills: It is critical to effectively communicate your fellowship expectations as well as what you can contribute to the fellowship in addition to the main deliverables.

An open-ended interview is essential for distinguishing yourself as a credible candidate; always be true to yourself, your aspirations, and the program’s expectations.

Honesty: Even if you believe that something is not your strong suit, please be honest about it and explain how you intend to improve it rather than taking a chance and lying about it. The panel members are skilled interviewers who can always see through the lies.

It is necessary, to be honest, and honesty can take you a long way, especially when you demonstrate your interest in improving yourself in a specific area by putting forth effort.

Nothing is more desirable than a candidate who is eager to learn and up-skill themselves.

Do your homework: As previously stated, go over your application essays.

Search the AIF fellowship team on LinkedIn to see if you have any shared interests in the social sector or previous work experiences. Look through the various blogs published by the fellowship’s alumni, read about the various intervention areas of AIF outside of the fellowship, and, most importantly, reach out to the fellowship’s alumni.

I personally reached out to 5 alumni from different years of the fellowship during various stages of the selection process, and each one of them gave me new perspectives on how to write my application, how to do well in interviews, and how to choose a project that resonates with you, which I believe contributed significantly to my selection as a fellow of the cohort 2021-22.

One of the alumni even went out of his way to review my application from the start and gave me advice until the very end of the selection process. Always rely on the fellowship’s alumni network as a source of strength.

Bonus tip: LinkedIn is the best platform to reach out to alumni.

Dress professionally: Finally, make every effort to dress professionally.

Even though I am not a believer in the saying “first impression is the best impression,” I do believe that dressing professionally can always demonstrate your enthusiasm, interest, and respect for the selection process, particularly during an interview.

It is not necessary to invest heavily in a professional wardrobe; however, a simple professional shirt can work wonders!

Conclusion: Lastly, I’d like to leave the readers with one last piece of advice from me.

I understand that preparing for an interview can be stressful; however, please know that AIF is very accommodating and that you are in the right place. Proceed with confidence and remain calm during the interview. Please notify the team if you require a moment to breathe. Be self-aware and trust your gut!

Good luck! 


Image reference: and Shutterstock


Amana hails from Kochi, Kerala. She has developed extensive industry knowledge and academic experience in the social impact sector through her involvement over the last three years. She is a Political Science Hons graduate from the University of Delhi, India. Along with her bachelor's degree, she completed a diploma in Women empowerment and development. She also holds certifications in Human Rights and Legal Literacy. She has worked in a diverse range of impact environments stretching from education, livelihoods, fundraising, relief, communications, corporate engagement, and advocacy. Previously, she has worked on a project named "Let's reach out Kerala", which aimed to offer psychosocial support to guest workers stranded in and outside the state of Kerala, India, during the first phase of the pandemic. After that, she went on to work on a vaccination project to provide Covid-19 vaccines to 200 guest worker families in Delhi-NCR, India. Through her various experiences, Amana acquired considerable skills, such as project management, communications, graphic designing, development of concept notes, collaboration, and research. Amana is a self-motivated and passionate individual who envisions an empathy-driven world.

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