Polygraphs are tools that monitor physical reactions to stress and are employed in national security hiring decisions as a suitability aid in the onboarding process. Polygraph tests are exclusively carried out by agencies with authorized programs and are administered solely by government-certified examiners. There are three main types of polygraph: lifestyle, counterintelligence, and full-scope. A full-scope polygraph merges questions from both the counterintelligence and lifestyle polygraphs.

The anxiety leading up to the exam can be daunting, and depending on your nerves and answers to the examiner’s questions, your test can be deemed inconclusive for certain sections, or you might fail altogether.

This ClearanceJobsBlog subscriber was in this exact predicament:

I started working for CACI (NGA contract) a month ago. I had a TS clearance (for over 10 years), and got it upgraded to SCI with no issues, within a week basically. The other requirement was a CI Poly after I get hired. I was naive thinking it was a solid science, and since I have nothing to hide and got my TS/SCI clearance thought it’d be just a formality. So, I had my first poly within 1 week of being hired, and I was told I passed the first half, but was inconclusive on other questions. 1 month later, I had my 2nd try. I passed the part that I failed last time, but was inconclusive on the new questions. So, now I have another poly scheduled in a month. I just don’t know what to do. Should I start looking for a new job or wait? Will I lose my TS/SCI clearance if I don’t pass that poly? I have a completely transparent background – no issues whatsoever, not financial, mental, criminal, drug abuse, etc. Nothing – clean as it gets. I have nothing to hide, I don’t know why I keep on failing. The interviewer keeps telling me that I’m not breathing right.

It is not uncommon for someone sitting down for a polygraph for the first time to fail or need a few more tries. We have reported a few ways that clearance holders can fail a polygraph, and if the examiner says you’re not breathing correctly, the poster could be failing due to perceived counter-measures like controlled breathing.

Next Steps After an Inconclusive or Failed Polygraph

Will I lose my TS/SCI clearance if I don’t pass that poly? A security clearance cannot be revoked solely based on an unfavorable polygraph test outcome. According to SEAD 4, “No adverse action concerning these guidelines may be taken solely on the basis of polygraph exanimation technical calls in the absence of adjudicatively significant information.” In cases where the polygraph test reveals a possible disqualifying condition for a security clearance under the adjudicative criteria, confirmation from another source of information is required to substantiate the findings.


Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs  maintains ClearanceJobsBlog.com – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum, emails received, and comments from this site.

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ 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! 🇺🇸