Polygraphs are a notorious job requirement that causes candidates some anxiety. Do I need to be fully honest if questions are asked that weren’t listed on the SF-86? What types of questions will they ask? Will I be precluded from applying to polygraph required positions if I fail?

This ClearanceJobsBlog subscriber failed his poly, is confused why, and is wondering what it means for the future of their job search:

Over a year ago, I failed a CBP polygraph. The examiner said that I was being failed due to “Forms and Drug usage”. There is no reason for him to fail me in those areas as I was answering his questions truthfully. I have already worked for a federal law enforcement agency for seven years and left the organization on good terms (three years ago). Will this hinder me from obtaining a new Secret clearance for another federal agency that does not require a polygraph as part of their normal hiring procedures? Any information is greatly appreciated.

Marko Hakamaa, moderator on the blog, advises that Customs and Border Patrol (a part of DHS), “has the notorious reputation of a 60% fail rate for those administered polygraphs. All it means is you are not able to meet their requirements for the specific position. It should not affect eligibility for a Secret clearance.”

Most of the time, applicants who fail withhold information related to past indiscretions that are embarrassing to them or that will prevent them from obtaining a position. Around 60-65% fail exams specifically with CBP.


Candidates applying for law enforcement positions at CBP are required to undergo a polygraph exam as part of the background investigation process. The results of the exam are used for the overall agency adjudication and are generally valid for two years. Applicants are eligible to take the polygraph again after that time period. In terms of the failing by ‘forms’, these are what is required of this specific agency:

  • CBP Applicant Release of Liability
  • Polygraph Examination Consent
  • Applicant Confidentiality Agreement for U.S. Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Examination

As a general rule for these types of exams, follow the following guidelines:

  • Don’t ask anyone who has taken a polygraph what theirs was like.
  • Don’t spend time thinking of things that may be asked during the test.
  • Don’t be influenced by any anti-polygraph websites.
  • Don’t anticipate what questions will be asked.
  • Don’t be late for your scheduled interview time.
  • Don’t believe anyone who tells you that sexual related behavior is a standard polygraph question.
  • Get a good night sleep the night before.
  • Maintain your normal routine prior to the exam.
  • Take your prescribed medications as directed by your physician.


There is a possibility that the original poster failed his exam but will pass it the next time. There is also potential that they could undergo the test with a different agency and pass with flying colors. While the CBP wires may differ from a polygraph exam with the DIA, for example, your pass / fail determination is completely circumstantial.

Failing a poly doesn’t necessarily mean you are lying. Continue the job search and try to let that failed test go. Other agencies can request the status of your application process with CBP, but the results do not preclude you from applying for other jobs.

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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 7+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸