Respond to Interview Prompt: How to Counsel Your Friend

Here is a sample interview prompt provided by Astroff on multipleminiinterview.com:

Prompt: A close friend in one of your university classes tells you that his mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. He feels overwhelmed by his studies and is considering dropping his courses to spend more time with his mother. How do you counsel your friend?

How would you begin to respond to this prompt?

Ideally, you should attempt to answer this question orally. Take 5-8 minutes to do this exercise first before reading further.

Now, let's provide some insight to this prompt, and tips for answering the question.

At first glance, this prompt appears to be an unconventional MMI question. There is no clear ethical dilemma, no one is deciding between two treatments, or giving a resource to one party over another.  It’s simply asking you how you would talk to your friend, who is going through a difficult time with his mother’s breast cancer diagnosis.

In approaching such unconventional questions, it is often helpful to consider what interviewers may be trying to glean from your answer. Remember, the MMI is a test primarily of two skills: critical thinking and communication. Here, it seems the focus is on communication, but don’t discount critical thinking just yet. It’s always a good idea to start by looking for ambiguity or missing information within a prompt. Is this a recurrent case of breast cancer? Is your friend otherwise doing well in his studies? How recent was this diagnosis? How far into the academic year are we? Is there any additional family with your friend’s mother or is she alone? These questions may help to guide your counseling and should be verbalized in your answer. Asking them is in itself demonstrates critical thinking!

With regard to the specifics of how you should counsel your friend, take a moment to think of a situation in which you had to help someone through a difficult time. Perhaps it was a roommate going through a break-up, a co-worker grieving for a loss, or a family member who had just been let go from work. Think of the words you used, the overall atmosphere of the conversation, what you did well, and what you wish you’d said. Hindsight is 20/20 and you right now have full view of the past. This can help to lend an air of authenticity to your answer and guide you towards an approach that is realistic and applicable.

Going through all of this in the heat of the moment during your interview can certainly seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Stick to the structure you’ve learned and apply it here. The Astroff I.C.E. approach will guide you to identify the key players and missing information (the questions discussed above), consider the multiple approaches (think back on your experiences and discuss them if relevant), engage the interviewer, and end effectively (present your case and be open for follow-up questions).

Think back to your preparation and you’ll find that even unconventional MMI questions can be answered quite conventionally.

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