Everyone has a different experience with polygraphs. Some discussion boards have comments a mile long, filled with people’s experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some clearance holders report examiners who were relentless and render the test inconclusive, only for the person to have to come back another day to easily pass the test. Others report zero issues in the process. But one theme that prevails is a feeling of mystery and confusion about the polygraph.

Don’t Try to Beat the System

It’s normal to be nervous before heading into take your polygraph. In fact, you can show up prepared. Sean Bigley, security clearance attorney says, “treat your polygraph examination day just like any other day. Don’t build it up in your head as a crisis event and don’t switch up your normal habits. If you approach the polygraph like just another day, it probably will be. If you approach it like a dragon that requires slaying, it might just become one.”

But keep in mind that anyone worth their salt will point out to you that you cannot beat the system. So when you’re preparing for the test, just be sure that you are prepared to be honest. You’re not looking to beat the system – as that is actively viewed negatively. But you should walk in as rested as possible, following your normal routine. And expect to be asked questions in different ways – repeatedly.

Polygraph Expectations

It is helpful to walk in with clear expectations. A number of commenters walked away from their polygraph feeling bewildered that their examiner insisted that “there is more to the story” when they were asked about drug use. Many others confirmed that this regularly happens. In the quest to be honest in the face of badgering, people can spill irrelevant information. It can make you start to question yourself. ‘Was that pain pill legit?” “Are over the counter sleep meds okay?” And then the paranoia sets in, making you seem like you’re holding something back.

Bottom line? Every examiner is different. Keep in mind the overall goal of the polygraph. On a Full Scope Polygraph, if you badger someone enough, they might call out details that didn’t make it into their SF-86. Often though, especially with someone who has anxiety, this can lead to irrelevant confessions or a closed-off demeanor. Both responses can lead to either more tests or an inconclusive results.

With a job on the line, just treat the questions as you would from anyone else in your life. Be truthful and stick with where your mind was on your first answer. There’s no need to second guess yourself in the middle of a polygraph if you walked in confident of the events in your life to-date. If you were honest on the SF-86, then the polygraph should merely be an inconvenient and different experience. But it shouldn’t cause you to question your whole life.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.