Foot In The Door Phenomenon Essay

On By In 1

One of the most powerful and important things you can do to get a job or achieve anything in life is learn how to just get your foot in the door. Once you are able to get your foot in the door, everything changes.

My entire life, I have seen firsthand the power of people getting their foot in the door. A large part of the battle for success in your career revolves around your ability to do this, because once you get your foot in the door incredible things can happen to you. Once you are in, the people you are working with will protect you if you work hard. You will also be in a position to impart massive change on the world.

Several years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman who worked for David Geffen, who is one of the most powerful and richest men in Hollywood. This woman used to work at Geffen’s house, and when she was there she would see people like President Bill Clinton walking around. Amazingly, Geffen never completed college. He started his career working in the mail room at the William Morris Agency. To get the job, he was asked to prove that he had graduated from college, so he forged a letter to that effect. Geffen was such a hard worker that, once he was able to get his foot in the door, he was able to achieve what his true pedigree would not have allowed him to achieve. While people may not approve of Geffen forging the fact that he went to college, doing so got him in the door. The rest is history; getting his foot in the door gave Geffen the opportunity to become a powerful agent, and ultimately, hang out with presidents, make movies, become a generous benefactor, and more.

All of his successes came from his ability to get in the door.

Several years ago, I was speaking to an attorney who was working at what is widely considered the most difficult law firm to get hired by in the United States. The attorneys who work in this law firm all seem to have graduated as the top one or two students from the best law schools in the United States. Simply stated, it is all but impossible to get a job at this law firm. When I looked at this woman’s transcript, however, I realized that she had done very well in law school, but nowhere near well enough to get a job at this particular law firm. Then I realized something else– she had started working at the law firm at the age of 18, as a secretary, and had worked there for almost seven years before finally going to a third-tier law school. Nevertheless, the law firm had happily hired her once she had graduated from law school, because she already had her foot in the door.

During the Korean War, Chinese communists used the foot-in-the-door phenomenon with American prisoners. Unlike the North Koreans, who were very savage with the American prisoners, the Chinese were very nice to the prisoners. The Americans who were captured had been trained to provide nothing but their name, rank, and serial number. The Chinese, however, managed to be extremely successful in getting the prisoners to be informants, to denounce the United States, and more.

During the war, a prisoner might be taken to a room, given a cigarette and something to eat. Then they would sit there with the Chinese for some time. They could potentially sit there for hours chatting about this or that, but really nothing in particular. The prisoner would feel like he was being treated very well and would let his defenses down to some degree. Then the prisoner might be asked to make a very simple statement that, on the surface, did not sound all that bad:

“In communism there is no unemployment and in the United States there is. Therefore, America is not perfect.”

However, where this gets interesting is in regards to what the Chinese would do later. According to one account of this, in Readings in Managerial Psychology by Harold J. Leavitt, Lewis R. Pondy, and David M. Boje:

But once these minor requests were complied with, the men found themselves pushed to submit to related but more substantive requests. A man who just agreed with his Chinese interrogator that the United States is not perfect, might then be asked to indicate some of the ways in which he thought this was the case. Once he had so explained himself, he might be asked to make a list of these “problems with America” and to sign his name to it. Later he might be asked to read his list in a discussion group with other prisoners. “After all, it’s what you really believe isn’t it?” Still later he might be asked to write an essay expanding on his list and discussing these problems in greater detail.

The Chinese might then use his name and his essay in an anti-American radio broadcast beamed not only to the entire camp, but to other POW camps in North Korea as well as to American forces in South Korea. Suddenly he would find himself a “collaborator,” having given aid and comfort to the enemy. Aware that he had written an essay without any strong threats or coercion, many times a man would change his image of himself to be consistent with the deed, and with the new “collaborator” label, often resulting in even more extensive acts of collaboration.

A huge secret of getting the results you want from people, organizations, and others is to start small and get them to make larger and larger commitments. For example, when a man asks a woman out, he never says, “Hey, let’s go have sex and then spend the next 60 years of our lives together in a committed relationship.” Instead, he invites her to have coffee, go see a movie, take a walk, and so forth. Everything begins with very small steps, and these small steps lead to greater and greater commitment.

When a religious organization comes to your door, the people do not say: “Hey, we would like to invite you to renounce every other religion on the planet, come to our church every Sunday for the rest of your life, and give us as much of your money as you can until you die.” Instead, they offer you a pamphlet and then ask if they can come back to see you at another time after you have had a chance to review the pamphlet. They seek smaller commitments from you at first. They know that the most important thing they can do is get their foot in the door. Once they do that, everything else falls into place much more easily.

The Scientologists do not ask people on the street if they are interested in getting therapy for the rest of their lives, in order to get aliens out of their body. No, they know it would be “crazy” to do this. Instead, they ask people to take a personality test, and then they build on this. You need to start small with anything, before you can build on it. Organizations are all smart enough to know that the first step and challenge they face is getting their foot in the door.

One of the funniest things I have seen that business schools, college career counseling offices, and other organizations often do with their students is encourage them to ask for “informational interviews” with various alumni of the school, who work in important positions, and in the cities they are seeking to work in. For example, the counselors will coach their students to go out and contact various alumni and tell them they are planning on working in a given industry, in a certain city (the industry could be large and very broad such as banking, retail, law, health care, etc.). The students tell the alumni that they are interested in getting some information about what it is like to work in a given industry in that city and to “learn from someone in the trenches” or something along those lines. Since this is such a small request and seems quite harmless–“I’d love to provide this alumnus of my school some information”–the alumni of the school almost always agree. They figure that since there is some sort of affiliation between them and the student (having attended the same school), and the student is simply seeking some harmless information, there is nothing wrong with speaking to the student at all.

The student will invariably show up at the person’s place of business well dressed, with a folder containing a résumé, and with a list of a few prepackaged questions to which the student already knows the answers. The student will then sit down with the employer and commence speaking with him or her. The entire time the employer is speaking, he or she is, on some level, evaluating whether or not the student would make a good hire. The student is not really there to get information 99% of the time, but to “get a foot in the door” and hopefully get a job, or future interview at the least. While the employer has easily agreed to the small request of an informational interview, he or she suddenly starts feeling a small tug to potentially hire the student. The “informational interview” is an incredibly effective tactic, and a brilliant example of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon.

We see the foot-in-the-door phenomenon in shopping centers, grocery stores, and all sorts of places every day. The “free sample” in the grocery store is an example of the foot-in-the-door tactic. You are offered a piece of something to eat or drink, and you try it. You then end up buying something you normally would not have bought. Someone sprays some perfume on you while you are strolling through a department store, and you decide to purchase it. It happens all the time.

What does the foot-in-the-door mean for your career? It means that you do not always need to ask for the moon when looking for a job. You can start out small and build from there. David Geffen started out working part time at the William Morris Agency. You can start out working in your dream job part time. You can start out as a contract employee. If you want an important job inside the company you can start out doing something that is relatively unimportant. Who cares what it is? Starting out doing something unimportant is a good way to get your foot in the door.

This is what internships are in many companies. Numerous companies and other organizations have unpaid internships for students. People come from all over the country to work for one organization or another for free each summer or during the school year. You might ask, why would someone want to work for an organization for free? This is a great question. Working some place for free does not seem to make a lot of sense, until you realize that the person is really just doing everything within their power to get their foot in the door.

If you really, really want to work for a particular employer, the most important thing you can do is get your foot in the door. In a bad job market you can really make the foot-in-the-door phenomenon work for you. For example, many people are looking at the prospect of being unemployed for potentially weeks (or longer) in a bad recession. If you are going into a job interview where there is a lot of competition with an employer you really want to work for, a good strategy might be to say something along these lines during the later stages of your interview:

“Listen, I have really wanted to work at this company for a long time. Financially, I am okay and do not have any pressing need for money at the moment. I am more concerned about having something to do during the day. I like working. I like the atmosphere here, and I really like this company. I would like to come work here for free for a month so you can see what I am like. Regardless of what happens, I will make the best effort I can during this time; you will have someone doing the job right away, and it will not cost you anything.”

This strategy is incredibly effective and it can work wonders. Why? Because you are showing a commitment to the employer. You are showing that you like to work. You are not making the employer feel guilty about not paying you. You are not obligating the person in any way, and you are giving the employer something for nothing. This strategy works and it is like a guided nuclear missile you can use against your competition for the jobs you are most interested in. Try it if you really want the job. If you pull it off right, it will get you a foot in the door, and once you get your foot in the door, this can lead to a full-time job later.

You need to get your foot in the door and knowing how to do this will pay huge rewards. The most successful salespeople, job seekers, and others all know that the biggest step they make in their march toward a job or sale is getting the employer, or prospect, to open that door.


Getting your foot in the door is an important, necessary first step towards getting the job you want. Once you are “in”, your colleagues will protect you if you work hard and you will have the same opportunity to compete with others. The biggest step you can make in your progress towards your goals is to get your prospective employer to let your foot in the door, even if only a little.

Search Employer Websites
Post Your Resume to 65+ Job Sites
Resume Service

For a step-by-step guide to transforming your career in just 44 days—including interviewing, where to find jobs people are not applying to, negotiating the best offers and strategies for the on-the-job success—check out Harrison Barnes' Career Transformation System.

Filed Under : Advancement, Featured, The Role of Jobs in Today’s World

Tagged: employer commitment, foot in the door, foot in the door phenomenon, get a job, get the job, job search, job search guru | a harrison barnes, job seekers, law firm, law school, part time


The exact opposite theory to the foot-in-the-door technique is the door-in-the-face technique, where a bigger request is followed up by a smaller one.

Have you ever met someone who has the skill of getting people to comply to their requests? It may seem like an impossible task to someone who is a bystander, but somehow these people manage to get others to agree to their point of view or requests made. How do these people manage to do this? Most often, they employ the different methods of compliance and persuasion. While there are several methods that can be made use of thus, one of the most common, and effective ones is the foot-in-the-door technique.

In this Buzzle article, we will go into the details of the very interesting workings of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon and provide examples of the same.


The foot-in-the-door technique, referred to as the FITD technique through the remainder of this article, follows a set pattern. First you get a 'yes' and then you get an even bigger 'yes', which could then be followed by an even bigger 'yes'. Here is how the phenomenon works.

The persuader makes a small request that is relatively simple enough to find agreement for, and once that request has been agreed to, an even bigger request is made. The chances of the subject agreeing to a large, cumbersome, or difficult request if asked in isolation are always less, hence, the persuader first gets him to agree to a comparatively smaller request and follows it up with a bigger request. The interesting thing is that the persuader can get the subject to agree to successively bigger and more difficult requests once he has gotten him to agree to the initial one.

The success of the successive requests largely depends on the fact that the consecutive requests are an extension of the initial, smaller request and not something completely different. So also, the same persuader has to make the second request as well.

To take a real-life example of the FITD phenomenon, let's say that Boni wants Chloe to take care of her dog for the whole day, but she knows that there are chances she will be turned down if she makes this request. So she'll start by asking if Chloe would come over and look after her dog for about an hour while she goes to the market. Once Chloe agrees and comes over, Boni asks her whether she would feed her dog as well. Then Boni calls her from the market and says that she's stuck in traffic and she will be delayed, and requests her to take her dog for a walk. The requests could go on piling with things like 'Could you bathe the dog once you are back from the walk' or 'Could you play catch with him while I'm back'. Also read about the door in the face technique, which is the exact opposite of this.


The success of this technique lies in the fact that a rapport or a bond is created between the persuader and the subject once the subject agrees to the initial request. Thus, when the second, more difficult request is made, the subject feels obligated to go along. And why does the subject find it so difficult to disagree with the consecutive requests that follow? The reason this happens is because the subject reasons with himself that by agreeing to do these tasks and helping a friend or society, he is being a good, responsible person, a good Samaritan. Thus, when the requests start piling on, he does not seem to have a choice but to go along because his positive self-image is threatened if he does not.

So also, if the requests are found to be pro-social in nature, the chances of success are found to be much higher. That, as well as the need for consistency that the subject exhibits.


The pioneer experiment to test the compliance theory, and whether the chances of agreeing to the second, bigger request heighten if a subject has already agreed to a first request was conducted by Freedman and Fraser in 1966. They divided housewives into 4 groups. The first group was contacted over the phone and asked a few simple questions about household items. After they agreed to answer the questions, a 3-day gap was observed and they were requested to open their homes to 5-6 men who would come and check the household items used in the house. For the second group, they mentioned the small request but did not make them do it. After a gap, they were asked a bigger request. The third group was made to become familiar with the requester and then the big request was made. And finally, the fourth group was asked only the big request.

The results were as follows.

52.8% of people from the 1st group agreed to the bigger request.
33.3% of people from the 2nd group agreed to the bigger request.
27.8% of people from the 3rd group agreed to the bigger request.
22.2% of people from the 4th group agreed to the bigger request.

This proved that the subjects were more likely to agree to the second, bigger request once they had agreed to the smaller request.


The following examples are given in the form of dialogs to help you understand the concept better.

Example #1 - Son to Father

Small Request - Can I borrow the car for the evening?
Big Request - Can I use the car for a road trip for 5 days?

Example #2 - Daughter to Mother

Small Request - Can I go over to Sara's house?
Big Request - Sara is going to the mall, can I go with her?
Bigger Request - Can I borrow money to visit the game arena and food court at the mall?
Even Bigger Request - Can you come pick me up from the mall?

Example #3 - Friend to Friend

Small Request - Can you help me move my couch to the new apartment?
Big Request - Can you help me move all my furniture to the new apartment?

Example #4 - Employer to Employee

Small Request - Can you come to work for an hour on the weekend?
Big Request - Can you put in an entire day over the weekend?

Example #5 - Husband to Wife

Small Request - Can I go for a friend's party on Saturday night?
Big Request - Can I go to Vegas for the said friend's bachelor party?

Even though the probability of success of the bigger request is said to increase if the said request is to do with a social cause, it is pretty clear that this technique is rather commonly used in our daily lives for the most mundane reasons. The ease with which this compliance technique can be carried out speaks volumes of its success rate.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *