in Careers Advice, Interviews

Interview Question & Answer – Describe a time when you failed to engage at the right level in your organisation. Why did you do that and how did you handle the situation?


This is a competency based interview question which again if you do not practice interview questions it is very unlikely you would be able to think of an answer on the spur of the moment. This needs to be one of the selection of scenarios you have stored in your head ready to use and adapt to the question put to you. This again is evidence of why competency based interviewing is not demonstrative of anybody’s skills and abilities in a work environment. You need to try and think of a situation when you can include positives to counter-balance the negatives. There are questions during interviews that you may find you are unable to answer and this is an example. It is similarly not appropriate to every type of interview and probably more relevant to senior management than it is to junior level workers. It is probably best suited to an example involving some sort of talk or giving of instruction to more junior members of a team that has not been presented or given on the right level for them to comprehend or understand. So examples like training days, team meetings, instructions to follow particular processes, staff meetings involving debate about the future of the business and so forth.

Use the STAR technique to structure your answer, so think of a situation, the task you were faced with, the actions you took and the results overall and this should give you the tools to equip you to answer the question.

Example of Answer

“When I was head of the personal injury department at Smith & Co Solicitors I decided to improve the process for dealing with new clients. I developed a protocol for all members of staff to follow when dealing with new clients. I held a team meeting in order to explain the protocol to members of staff with instructions to follow it immediately. The instructions I gave were, I thought at the time, pretty clear. Unfortunately the non-qualified staff had not comprehended my instructions and after the meeting continued to deal with new clients in the same way they always had done. I realised that I had failed to engage with that level of personnel and as a result of this I held another meeting for the non-qualified staff where I explained the new techniques in a different way, with practical examples and practice scenarios to ensure that everybody understood the new method for handling clients. It was result that the non-qualified staff started following the protocol and our department was much more effective handling new queries than it had been before”.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at