How Much Do Polygraph Examiners Earn?


Are you interested in a career as a polygraph examiner? It’s a rewarding and satisfying job. You’ll meet plenty of people from all walks of life and see the brighter and darker side of the human psyche.

It’s a long path to earn your qualifications and certification as an examiner; many candidates spend up to six to seven years studying and interning with firms before they ever sit behind the examiner’s desk and conduct a lie detector test.

However, those that put in the time and effort to make it happen can look forward to a long and productive career with plenty of exciting twists and turns. As with every profession, you’re probably wondering if it’s financially viable.

After all, you’ll spend close to $100,000 on your studies, interning, and living costs while earning your degree, polygraph school certification, and internship. So, is it worth investing all this time and money into becoming a polygraph examiner?

This post will look at what polygraph examiners earn in America. What can you expect from your pay slip? Is it enough to survive and recover the money you spend on student loans and cost of living expenses?


An Overview of a Career in Polygraph Examination

What does the path to becoming a polygraph examiner look like? The journey to earning your qualification starts with a four-year BA or BSc degree in university. You’ll study courses like criminology, psychology, and criminal justice before graduating and moving on to polygraph school to earn your certification.

Polygraph school consists of courses varying in length, from three months to 18 months, with specialization courses taking anything from three to twelve weeks to complete after that. When your degree and polygraph school courses are over, you might have to earn your licensing, depending on the state you want to work in.

Typically, employers prefer hiring certified and licensed candidates, so investing in this part of your training is important to further your career prospects. After finishing your studies, you’ll spend a year to 18 months in an internship at a polygraph firm.

During this part of your training, you’ll work with experienced polygraph examiners until they feel you’re ready to conduct your first solo exam. From there, the world is your oyster. It’s time to build your exam count, reputation, and salary.

As you put in the time to advance your career, you’ll gain experience. In most cases, it takes anywhere from five to ten years to progress into a management position or teaching post at a university or polygraph school. When you have 15 to 20 years on the job, you can start looking at opening your own polygraph firm in the private sector.

There’s a big difference between taking a career in the public and private sectors. With public sector jobs, you’ll work for Federal organizations like the CIA, NSA, FBI, and local or state law enforcement. In the private sector, you’ll work for firms specializing in polygraph services for firms and corporations.

Typically, the private sector offers better pay rates than the public sector when you reach the advanced stages of your career. Opening a polygraph firm provides you the chance to make huge amounts of money if you build a good brand with a solid reputation.


Are there Geographic Differences in Polygraph Examiner Salaries?

The rates for polygraph examiners vary, depending on the state and city you work in. Obviously, you can’t compare a salary working at a New York or Californian firm to one in Louisiana or Texas. However, the cost of living in big urban centers like LA or NYC is much higher than in New Orleans or Fort Worth.

There are also more job opportunities in states with more economic activity, like California. So, you’ll need to consider where you want to establish yourself in your career. California has the biggest job market for polygraph examiners, and working at a top-rated firm in LA or San Mateo helps you build your reputation fast.

With a good reputation as a high-quality examiner, you also have more chance of a big firm headhunting your skills, moving you up the ladder in your career prospects. Let’s look at the top ten cities in the United States offering polygraph examiners the best financial opportunities for their careers.

The national average salary for a polygraph examiner is $99,875. So, as a polygraph examiner, you can expect to earn close to six figures before taxes once you establish yourself in the market. However, this is just an average. Some cities will have lower averages and some higher averages, which is why it’s important to think about where you want to work to get the best bang for your buck from your career.

San Mateo, CA, Daly City, CA, and Green River, WY, are the hottest markets for polygraph examiners to find jobs. Green River has the second-highest national average for polygraph examiner salaries, beating the national average by over $17,000 or more than 17%. However, San Mateo, CA, offers the best national average for polygraph examiner salaries, at just over $19,000 or 19% above the national average.

We’ll list the ten cities offering polygraph examiners the best economic opportunities. Before we do so, we want to point out that the average salary in these top ten cities has little variation, with there being just a 7% difference between the salary you earn in a city like San Mateo, CA, versus somewhere like Tacoma, WA.

That means there’s little room for wage advancement when you reach the top salary bracket in the industry after a few years on the job. Considering the cost of living in San Mateo versus Tacoma, you’ll come out with a more favorable earnings package after deducting your household earnings from your net income.

That said, San Mateo is a better city for building your reputation. You’ll earn more industry kudos and get noticed far faster than in Tacoma, meaning you’ll have international companies and other top American, Canadian, or UK-based firms looking at luring you away to their company. So, if you want to travel and build your reputation, consider the value of joining a firm in a big city over a smaller one.

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the right area to work in and the best company offering your wage and career advancement opportunities. With that out of the way, let’s look at the top ten cities providing the best pay packages to polygraph examiners.

City Annual Salary Monthly Pay Weekly Pay Hourly Wage

San Mateo, CA $118,990 $9,915 $2,288 $57.21

Daly City, CA $117,315 $9,776 $2,256 $56.40

Green River, WY $116,973 $9,747 $2,249 $56.24

Berkeley, CA $116,781 $9,731 $2,245 $56.14

Irvine, CA $113,892 $9,491 $2,190 $54.76

Richmond, CA $111,745 $9,312 $2,148 $53.72

Oxnard, CA $111,031 $9,252 $2,135 $53.38

Merced, CA $110,952 $9,246 $2,133 $53.34

Orange, CA $110,796 $9,233 $2,130 $53.27

Tacoma, WA $110,776 $9,231 $2,130 $53.26

From this table, we can see there’s not much of a difference in the hourly rates between cities. It’s also important to notice that out of the top ten cities, California has eight of the ten spots, making undeniably the best state to seek work as a polygraph examiner. IT also has the highest demand for professionals, so it’s work moving out west to start your career.


Industry and Sector Variations in Earnings for Polygraph Examiners

As a polygraph examiner, you have a range of job categories to choose from for your career. It’s important to note that some pay better than others. There are five top-paying jobs we’ll examine in the next table.

It’s also important to note that none of them manage to crack the $100K mark, so you can expect that as a ceiling on your career earnings opportunities. That said, these are averages, and depending on the area you work in and the company you work for, you might manage to reach that elusive six-figure salary.


Job Title Annual Salary Monthly Pay Weekly Pay Hourly Wage

Contract Polygraph Examiner $95,338 $7,944 $1,833 $45.84

International Polygraph Examiner $94,314 $7,859 $1,813 $45.34

Online Polygraph Examiner $91,876 $7,656 $1,766 $44.17

Full Time Polygraph Examiner $89,793 $7,482 $1,726 $43.17

Weekend Polygraph Examiner $88,752 $7,396 $1,706 $42.67


What is the Difference in Salary for Entry-Level and Experienced Polygraph Examiners

In January 2023, the average annual salary for a polygraph examiner based in the United States is $99,875. So, if we unpack that into average hourly earnings, it works out to $48.02 per hour. Expanding further, we see you can expect an average monthly salary slip of $8,322, or $1,920 per week.

Analyzing data from ZipRecruiter, we find that the range of salaries in the industry can vary from a peak of $164,000 to as low as $26,500 per annum. Most polygraph examiner salaries range between $51,000 in the 25th percentile to $131,500 in the 75th percentile.

The top earners in the 90th percentile of the US polygraph examiner industry receive salaries of $148,500 annually. So, the average pay for polygraph examiners can vary by as much as $80,500. This data suggests many career advancement opportunities and the chance to increase your annual pay package based on your experience, skill set, and location in the country.


What are the Factors Affecting Polygraph Examiner Salaries?

The biggest influence on your earnings potential as a polygraph examiner comes from your experience, skill set, and location. However, other factors determine what you earn during your career. The polygraph industry seems to suffer from gender bias in its average salary distribution.

According to data from ZipRecruiter, 84% of polygraph examiners are male, while 16% are female. There’s also a racial bias to the job, with more than 63% of all examiners being white. The most common second language for polygraph examiners is Spanish, with 80% of examiners choosing it as their second language.

That’s not surprising when we see that most of the industry is in California. Also, Spanish is the most frequently spoken second language across the country.


What Are the Other Career Choices for Polygraph Examiners?

A career as a polygraph examiner is rewarding and engaging. However, it also opens a lot of doors into other industries. You might start your career as a polygraph examiner and decide on other, more appealing options. Or, you might have a company headhunt you based on your skills and reputation, offering you a job in another related field.

The career path opportunities for polygraph examiners are broad, and many are in related fields involving criminal justice, security, and the like. For example, you might start your career as a polygraph examiner working for a firm and move on to a management or supervisor role before becoming a deputy director in another firm.

Also, you might start your career in polygraphy before moving on to another industry. Here’s a list of common job alternatives for polygraph examiners.

  • Special Agent
  • Security Officer
  • Investigator
  • Supervisor
  • Police Officer
  • Instructor
  • Guest Lecturer
  • Teacher
  • Owner
  • Internship
  • Embalmer/Funeral Director
  • Captain
  • Supervisory Special Agent
  • General Manager
  • Senior Investigator
  • Operations Manager
  • Detective
  • Team Leader
  • Intelligence Officer
  • Child Protective Investigator


Maximizing Your Earning Potential as a Polygraph Examiner

While a career as a polygraph examiner is lucrative, placing you in the top earnings bracket of American professionals, there are strategies you can implement to increase your earnings potential. For instance, we’ve already discussed the importance of receiving licensing and certification for your skillset.

As mentioned, employers look more favorably on polygraph examiners with these credentials, and you can expect a higher starting salary if you put the time into achieving these qualifications. However, it costs more money for your education, and you might have to take out loans to earn them.

You’ll have to decide if that’s the right move for you, and that’s a personal decision. The biggest action you can take to increase your earnings potential after ensuring you have certification and licensing is to choose where you want to work. As mentioned, California presents polygraph examiners with the biggest job market in the United States.

Beyond that, the next best thing you can do to increase your annual earnings is to build experience. Do what others won’t with your career and put the time into working as much as you can. The more exams you conduct, the more experience you build and the more in demand your skills become.