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What Is a "Foot in the Door"?

E. Reeder
E. Reeder

The idiomatic expression “foot in the door” means to gain entry to something, such as an organization, that the person is interested in pursuing further. By getting one's “foot in the door” at a company with a low-level beginning job, a person might be opening further opportunities for the future. The idea is that by starting off small, a person will be able to gain a greater benefit later because a foothold has been established.

One common way in which this phrase is used is to describe the phenomenon of beginning with a lower-paying entry-level job with a company as a way to get one's “foot in the door” with them. Later, a person could use this smaller position as a steppingstone to a higher-level one, which would be much more possible because he or she had already begun working for the company, even if not at the level that was ultimately desired. The whole idea is starting off small and then moving up in the company.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

This technique could also work with people instead of jobs. A man who wants to ask a woman out on a date might, for example, begin by starting an everyday, mundane conversation with her, hoping to develop the relationship further. After getting his "foot in the door," he could use these daily exchanges to get to know her better.

As an idiomatic expression, the phrase "foot in the door" must be interpreted within each context that it is used to understand it properly, because it is normally used figuratively. The beginnings of this phrase were literal, however. The earliest known references to the phrase “foot in the door” are from the United States, where the term was used to describe the technique of literally jamming one’s foot in a doorway to prevent the door from closing, thus allowing the conversation to continue. This is a technique sometimes used by political party workers and door-to-door salespeople.

The term “foot in the door” is also the name of a psychological technique similar to the common use of the phrase, because that is where it was developed. Within this context, it means that instead of asking for something large to begin with, one should start by asking for something small and then working up to increasingly larger things until the goal is reached. Instead of asking for a very expensive video game, for example, a child might first ask his or her parents first for a cheaper one. After the child’s parents acquiesce, the child could continue until finally asking for the real goal of obtaining the expensive game, knowing that asking for and receiving smaller ones first would make it more likely that his or her parents would finally agree to buy the big one.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books