Are you booked for a pre-employment or employee polygraph exam? You might be wondering about the questions the examiner will ask you during the session. It’s understandable that you’re curious about the test, the questions, and how you’ll feel and behave during the exam.

This post gives you an idea of the types of questions and the ten most-asked questions during lie detector tests. We give you an idea of what to expect whether you’re applying for a position with the Federal Government or with an employer in the private sector.


Why Do Companies and Agencies Use Polygraph Exams?

Government agencies and private-sector employers use polygraph exams for three reasons.


Pre-Employment Screening

These polygraph exams help the employer determine if you’re the right person to hire. The test involves assessing your background to see if you have any history of criminality, drug use, or other behavior that might present a risk to the business and staff if they hire you.

Typically, these polygraph exams only apply to Federal agencies and select industries in the private sector. Most private-sector employers cannot use pre-employment polygraphs in hiring as it’s against the “Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA).


Random Employee Screening

These polygraph exams involve the random screening of employees in intervals ranging from six months to three years. The employer may use these exams as part of internal processes to ensure their employees meet their standards for employment.

Like pre-employment screening, these tests are only available to Federal agencies and select private-sector employers. Most private-sector companies cannot issue random polygraph testing of their employees.


Specific Employee Screening

The employer schedules these polygraph exams if an event occurs in their agency or business that involves criminal intent. For instance, a theft that presents an economic loss to the company, fraud, sexual harassment, and other serious crimes.

Unlike the previous two polygraph exams, private sector employers may issue specific employee testing, regardless of their industry. However, they must comply with the guidelines set by the EPPA when implementing their polygraph policy.


What Industries Use Polygraph Exams?

Most public-sector agencies, such as the US Justice Department, and those involved in national security use pre-employment, random, and specific polygraph testing for candidates and employees. Private sector companies involved in high-risk industries exempt from the EPPA, such as security and pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution, may also use these tests.


What are the Types of Questions Asked in a Polygraph Exam?

The polygraph exam involves the examiner asking the examinee a mix of the following types of questions.


Relevant Questions

In candidate screening and specific and random employee screening, the employer may be interested in the examinee’s background and current activities. Relevant questions refer to the primary questions pertinent to the reason for the polygraph. They may involve criminal history, drug use, and employment history.


Irrelevant Questions

Irrelevant questions don’t have any impact on the emotional response from the examinee during the polygraph exam. The examiner incorporates them into the polygraph test to detect the examinee’s baseline emotional and physiological response.


Comparison Questions

Irrelevant or control questions serve the role of providing a comparison to irrelevant and relevant questions. The examiner expects examinees that answer questions truthfully to be overly concerned about control questions than they are about relevant questions and compares the examinee’s responses to control and relevant questions.


Concealed Information Questions

Unlike relevant questions, which ask the subject directly if they committed a crime or used drugs, concealed information queries aim to uncover information about these issues that only guilty examinees would know. For example, details about a crime or how it was carried out. Guilty examinees produce a different physiological response to relevant questions than irrelevant questions, but innocent examinees respond equally to all questions.


Understanding Relevant/Irrelevant (R/I) Polygraph Questioning Techniques

There’s a significant difference between the questions and format of questioning between private-sector and public-sector polygraph exams. The R/I technique is used in both sectors but with different formatting.

The original R/I method was developed by Dr. William Marston, a psychologist responsible for developing the first American lie detector exam and device. An adaptation of his R/I technique is still in use in pre-employment screening in the United States.

However, the R/I technique used by the Federal Government uses a different questioning strategy than employment polygraphy. Experts agree that the current version is a variation of the “Control Question Technique” (CQT), which we’ll cover later.

As currently implemented by Federal polygraph examiners, the R/I technique relies on a control question format and comes in three different versions.

  • The traditional R/I Technique
  • The Federal variation.
  • The R/I technique is used in standard pre-employment screening tests in the private sector, but for Federal employees.

In the traditional R/I exams, the examiner asks relevant and irrelevant questions. Deceptive examinees exhibit significantly greater reactions to relevant questions than to irrelevant questions. Non-deceptive examinees respond equally to all the examiner’s questions since they don’t fear questions relating to crimes and drug use more than irrelevant ones.

According to psychologists, there are several well-recognized issues with the traditional R/I technique. For instance, the intent of irrelevant and relevant questions is transparent, meaning the examinee finds the relevant questions more arousing for deceptive and truthful subjects.

The questions in the R/I technique aren’t typically reviewed with the examinee pretest. As a result, an overreaction to relevant questions may be due to their misunderstanding, surprise, or deception. The examinee’s reaction to these questions could also be muted due to drug use, such as Xanax, or to the reduced responsivity of examinees.

These effects are more challenging to detect with the R/I technique than with other questioning methodologies. Due to these issues, there’s little confidence in the traditional R/I technique.

As a result, the traditional R/I technique isn’t usually valid for use in specific incident polygraph exams conducted in the public or private sector. Typically, it features in employee investigations involving nonspecific topics, such as pre-employment screening.

The Federal Government will occasionally use the traditional R/I technique and a version that functions as a CQT. The Federal Government version is the General Question Test (GQT). It’s similar to the Reid Technique we’ll discuss shortly, with the goal of asking questions covering all aspects of the examinee’s life.


The Reid Technique & CQT – Relevant Questions for Federal Polygraph Exams

Federal agencies, such as the CIA, FBI, and NSA, typically use the CQT test developed by John E. Reid & Associates when screening employees. The test uses four relevant questions.

  • Did you steal any merchandise from previous employers in the last five years?
  • Did you steal any money from previous employers in the last five years?
  • Did you take part in or commit any serious crime in the previous ten years?
  • Did you falsify information on your employment application?

The Reid Technique varies from the Federal method in specific ways. For instance, if the examinee doesn’t admit guilt to any of the above questions, the examiner may probe the examinee until they admit to one. For example, they might press the subject to admit to an act as menial as stealing pocket change from their parents as kids.

The examiner rules out past transgressions by adding an exclusionary phrase, “Other than what we have discussed, have you ever stolen anything from an employer?” It’s assumed by the examiner that, at this point, the examiner is possibly concealing other actions or is anxious that there are others they might have overlooked in their past.

This anxiety is elevated due to the polygraph examiner’s emphasis on uncovering the truth and ascertaining the examinee isn’t the type of person that could commit a crime referred to in the relevant questions.

Additionally, the examiner includes irrelevant questions alongside relevant and control questions during the exam to establish a baseline response in the examinee. Several versions of the CQT technique are regularly employed in Federal exams, and its adaptations depend both on the examiner’s training and the test situation.

The Reid Technique variant of the CQT may include relevant questions regarding several aspects of potential crimes, such as breaking into an employer’s office, stealing a check, and cashing it. Examiners using Reid’s version of the CQT compare responses to relevant and control questions.

They note the examinee’s behavior during the session, looking for behavioral symptoms in deceptive subjects. The examiner compares polygraph responses bolstered by information regarding the examinee’s behavior to judge the examinee’s veracity.

Here’s an example of the types of questions and progression used in the Reid CQT polygraph exam.

  1. Is your nickname “Jim?” (Where information disclosed in the pretest interview shows the examinee said their nickname was as such).
  2. Are you over 18 years of age? (Where the examinee’s age is close to this figure).
  3. Last Saturday night, did you rob the warehouse?
  4. Are you in Los Angeles now?
  5. Did you rob the warehouse?
  6. Besides what you’ve told me about, have you ever stolen anything else?
  7. Did you go to school?
  8. Did you steal the company inventory last Saturday night?
  9. Do you know who stole the merchandise from the warehouse?
  10. Have you ever stolen anything from a place where you worked?


Polygraph Exams in the Private Sector – Adaptations of the R/I Technique

Regarding polygraph testing in the private sector, examiners typically use a variation of the R/I technique as the principal questioning method in pre-employment screening or random and specific polygraph testing of employees.

Unlike the questions featured in other techniques, the R/I questions don’t always focus on one specific instance, such as the example of robbing a warehouse mentioned previously. So, the examiner can use this R/I method to assess several issues to evaluate the examinee’s responses and honesty.

In pre-employment polygraph exams, the examiner typically presents the examinee with a series of relevant questions. They’ll interject with irrelevant questions randomly to establish a baseline response in the examinee.

Most relevant questions asked during the exam refer to the examinee’s past behavior that might disqualify them from the job they applied for with the employer. Examples include theft, debt, drug use, fighting with colleagues, or sexual harassment.

Some exams may include relevant questions regarding the candidate’s background or intentions regarding the reason for working for the company. For example, “Are you seeking employment with this company for reasons other than legitimate employment?”


10 Most Asked Relevant Questions During Employment Lie Detector Tests

If you’re going for a pre-employment polygraph screening, you can expect the examiner to ask variations of the following ten relevant questions during the session.

  1. Did you tell the truth on your employee application?
  2. Have you ever deliberately withheld information from an employee application?
  3. Have you ever been fired from a job?
  4. Since the age of 16 have you ever been convicted of a crime?
  5. During the past year, have you used cannabis more than once per month?
  6. Have you used any other illegal drug or abused or misused any prescription medication in the last year?
  7. Have you sold or distributed cannabis, illegal drugs, or prescription medications in the past five years?
  8. Have you ever stolen more than $500 worth of merchandise in any calendar year from an employer?
  9. Are you seeking employment with this company for any reason other than legitimate employment?
  10. Have you deliberately lied to any of the questions I asked you?


How Do You Receive Your Polygraph Exam Results?

After completing the polygraph exam, the examiner will thank you for your time and ask you to leave the room. Don’t ask the examiner for your test results before you go; they can’t give them to you because they have yet to make their final assessment of the polygraph test.

The examiner takes the data from the exam session and analyzes it alongside the video recording of the test at their office. If they suspect you’re being deceptive, they’ll review the recording and study your body language to confirm their suspicions.

Once the examiner is confident of their decision, they type a report and send it to the client requesting the polygraph exam. Your employer will notify you of your test results two to three days after taking the test.