The polygraph test is an infamous element of police investigations and genre novels. So if you were recently asked to take a polygraph test as part of a pre-employment examination or security clearance procedure, a feeling of surprise would be completely warranted. Normally you would only be subjected to such measures if you were seeking employment in law enforcement, if you were going to be involved in business deals worth great sums or money, or if you were seeking access to valuable and/or classified information.
Generally, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. But if you’re still feeling apprehensive, read the common questions and procedures below to familiarize yourself with the process. On the other hand, if you’re trying to get information for yourself, use this five-star course to learn how to become a human lie detector.
Interestingly, the most time consuming portion of the polygraph exam is the pre-test. As to be expected, pre-tests vary widely in content, but their purpose is consistent. This is the time for the examiner to finalize his or her basis for asking you certain questions while connected to the polygraph.
- A Nice Little Chat
This pre-examamination process usually lasts between 1-4 hours. Whoever is examining you will already have reviewed quite a lot of information about you. This information includes all of your application materials, a background investigation report, criminal history, general history, etc. The examiner will spend a significant amount of time reviewing these facts while also trying to probe deeper into subjects of interest.
The examiner is most likely to try to find out about criminal activity; you will not, for example, be asked questions such as how frequently you engage in sexual intercourse, whether or not you were abused as a child, etc. They are likely to ask about drug use, but overly personal questions are completely unacceptable. You want to stay alert and don’t let fear get the best of you; put any concerns to rest with this awesome course on how to overcome your fears.
- The Examiner As Human Being
Sure, you might get unlucky and have a surly or rude examiner, but for the most part examiners are well aware of the human condition. Everyone has made mistakes. Everyone stole candy when they were kids. Pretty much everyone has hit a joint at least once, had a beer before they were old enough, etc. In other words, everyone has concerns going into a polygraph test. A good examiner will explain all of this during the pre-test process. He or she will also explain that minor issues tend to be of little concern. It’s the big things that make companies and organizations wary, such as serious, undisclosed violent crimes.
This will be the most reassuring thing you will hear all day: the examiner will not ask you any surprise questions during the actual test. How is this possible, you ask? Because he or she will have reviewed all of the questions with you during the pre-test. That’s right: you will know every question you are going to be asked before they ask you.
This is because the polygraph is not a lie detector. It’s not even meant to detect lies. It’s meant to measure physiological changes in your body that correspond to a person’s fear of being caught being secretive. It is not lies they are worried about; it’s deception and the fear of being discovered.
To satisfy your curiosity, the polygraph measures your breathing patters, blood pressure and changes in Galvanic Skin Response (electric impulses emitted from the cells in your body).
The Polygraph Test
As you are hooked up to the polygraph itself, the examiner will explain what is happening and what each instrument does; these include a blood pressure band, one to two breathing detectors which typically wrap around your abdomen, and several metal pads that attach to your fingers.
It will be just you and the examiner in the room. His instructions will be relatively simple: answer all questions simply and truthfully (i.e. Yes or No). There is, however more good news: the test is usually run two to four times consecutively, with breaks between. During the breaks you can ask questions, relax, etc. You will then repeat the process.
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Some people are so nervous that the examiner is forced to stop the test. Some people are do deceptive from the start that again the examiner must stop the test. If a question is seriously bothering you, they will likely stop, discuss, and attempt to re-start. If serious deception problems persist, you will risk failing the test before it is over. That, unfortunately, is an unpleasant fact.
Anyone considering a career in law enforcement should check out this blog post on 9 ways to lay down the law in criminal justice.
The questions will vary, of course, but there are many common examples that will give you an idea of what to expect:
- Have you ever stolen from an employer? (note: this question is usually followed by another asking the value of the stolen item, although since it will be a Yes or No question, it will be worded something like, “Was it worth more than $100?”)
- If you see a colleague stealing, would you tell someone?
- Would you report a colleague who uses drugs on company time?
- Are you withholding information regarding a serious, undisclosed crime?
- Are you withholding information regarding your illegal drug history?
- Have you physically harmed a friend or family member during a domestic dispute?
- Before applying for this position, have you ever cheated on an application or test?
- Prior to applying for this position, did you ever lie to someone in a position of authority?
- Have you ever violated any official rules or regulations?
- Have you ever done anything that would jeopardize your integrity? Your life?
You will also be asked simple questions, too, such as, “Are you sitting down?” and “Are you taking a polygraph test?” These are standard, irrelevant questions that normalize the polygraph.
The key is to remain as relaxed as possible. If you’re already having a nervous breakdown, get help with this course that will transform your self-doubt into confidence.