Tips for Success on Employment Polygraph Tests

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 17, 2021

When applying for some jobs, you may have to take a polygraph test as part of your background check. Employers use polygraph devices to verify information about your past and confirm your suitability for certain positions. Knowing how polygraph screening for jobs works can help you feel confident before taking the test. In this article, we explain the purpose of polygraph tests for employment and share tips that you can use for a stress-free polygraph experience.

What is an employment polygraph test?

An employment polygraph test, or lie detector screening test, is a pre-employment process that involves measuring changes in your body's vital signs to determine if you're being honest about certain topics. Employment polygraph tests typically cover topics that impact a company's safety and security, such as involvement in illegal activity. They involve three important steps:

Related: [Q&A: What's Included in an Employment Background Check?**](https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/whats-included-in-an-employment-background-check)

Pre-exam

The polygraph pre-exam is a written questionnaire about your personal history. Each employer has its own questionnaire based on the information they need to know about job applicants. Pre-exams use true or false, multiple-choice or short-answer questions to gather information about your character. They may also include sections where you can explain the circumstances around any of your answers.

Polygraph setup

Once you complete the pre-exam, a polygraph operator will connect you to a device that monitors your respiratory rate, blood pressure and sweat levels on your skin. The polygraph machine graphs any fluctuations in these vital signs to track the signs of stress associated with lying.

At the start of the polygraph test, operators ask a series of questions to establish a baseline for your vital signs. This includes asking you about basic information they know is true, such as your name. Operators also ask you to tell a lie on purpose to determine how your body reacts when sharing false information.

Questionnaire review

Next, the examiner asks questions based on your answers to the questionnaire. They may ask you to clarify information or simply re-state the written test questions. The length of the questionnaire review depends on your responses and the information employers want to know.

Related: [A Comprehensive Guide to Background Checks**](https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/starting-new-job/what-happens-after-a-background-check-for-a-job)

What jobs require polygraph tests?

Employers only use polygraph tests in the hiring process for specific positions that have access to sensitive information or require advanced security clearances. While the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) prevents most employers from requiring polygraph testing for their employees, some types of organizations have an exemption to promote safety and security. These include:

  • Security companies

  • Government agencies

  • Police departments

  • Military branches

  • Pharmaceutical companies

Typically, polygraph testing is only a pre-employment requirement for roles that require upstanding moral character. If you want to work with topics like national defense, nuclear development, immigration or drug regulation, you may expect to take a polygraph test to confirm your trustworthiness. Examples of jobs that might ask you to take a polygraph test during your background check include:

  • Intelligence agent

  • Prison guard

  • Firefighter

  • Pharmacist

  • Security engineer

  • Border patrol officer

Other jobs may request polygraph tests from employees when investigating serious workplace incidents. These situations are rare and have specific requirements based on the EPPA. Research regulations in your field to learn more about when employers can ask you to take a polygraph.

Related: [How To Get a Security Clearance](https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-get-security-clearance)

Tips for preparing for a polygraph test

If you're applying for a job that involves taking a polygraph test, use these tips to prepare and make the experience as easy as possible:

Set aside the whole day

Polygraph tests can take several hours, so plan to spend the entire day at the testing center. Setting aside extra time to take the polygraph is a good idea because it limits distractions from other plans, allows you to relax and encourages you to focus on answering the questions. If the test ends early, you can use the rest of your day to celebrate achieving another step towards getting a job.

Review online questionnaires

Get more comfortable with the idea of a polygraph test by searching for common pre-employment polygraph questions. While online questions may not reflect the information on your official questionnaire, they can give you an idea of what you might discuss. This can reduce any of the natural nervousness you might feel when talking about sensitive topics.

Uphold your routine

Maintain your daily routine before taking an employment polygraph test to limit the chance of outside factors influencing your vital signs. You may be more comfortable during the polygraph test when you can complete your regular morning routine beforehand. This involves getting a full night of rest, taking any regular prescription medications and eating a nutritious breakfast to give you energy for the day.

Wear comfortable, professional clothing

Dress in comfortable clothing that you can easily sit in for several hours. Select clothing that fits well and provides you with room to move around. Because polygraph testing is part of your official job application, you should choose a professional business casual outfit. You may want to wear an outfit with layers that you can add or remove if the testing office gets too warm or cold.

Pack snacks to eat

Bring a bottle of water and a few snacks that you can eat if you get hungry or thirsty throughout the day. Having something to eat and drink can help you avoid feeling anxious or distracted from hunger. Test proctors may give you breaks, so you can eat your snacks and stay hydrated. Choose simple foods that you know you like and avoid anything with caffeine.

Communicate with the examiner

Before the test, talk to the examiner and clarify any questions you have. Examiners understand that you may feel nervous and can reassure you that your feelings are normal. They can help you feel more comfortable with the test by explaining how it works. Communicating with your examiner about the test instructions can help ensure accurate results and a smooth testing process.

Answer every question

Respond to every question the examiner asks. Skipping questions can disqualify your polygraph results or make employers wonder why you didn't answer. Listen carefully to each question and take your time when responding to ensure you provide sufficient information during the test.

Be honest

Answering questions honestly is the most important part of taking a pre-employment polygraph test. Remember that your polygraph results are private, so only you and your employer can access them. You should also understand that being honest about a past mistake won't always disqualify you from a job. Employers want to hire applicants that have the integrity to admit to their faults, so it's always better to answer truthfully.

Related: Can You Get a Job With a Criminal Record?

Follow up if necessary

Sometimes outside factors can invalidate polygraph results, so answer any follow-up questions employers ask when verifying your results. You may need to take another polygraph test to confirm inconclusive results. Follow up quickly to complete the polygraph process efficiently and move to the next step in the hiring process.

Explore more articles