If your company requested you to take a polygraph exam or you’re a candidate going for a pre-employment polygraph screening, you probably don’t have any experience with it. The purpose of the “lie detector test” is to determine if you have the characteristics of honesty and integrity the company values in its employees.

Companies rely on HR processes to understand your personality, character, and values to see if you’re the right fit for the job and the organization. Typically, the employment process starts with a review of your resume and an interview with HR to see if you’re qualified for the position.

Some companies need to take this process further to better understand your values of integrity and honesty. They’ll use a polygraph to see if you’re hiding anything that could potentially affect the company economically or damage its reputation.

The lie detector test aims to see if you’re willing to act deceptively to benefit your interests over the organization. The polygraph consists of a test performed by a qualified and experienced examiner. You’ll answer several questions with yes-or-no answers, covering your history.

Typical questions on a polygraph exam cover whether you’ve lied to employers in the past, if you have outstanding debts, use illegal drugs, or have stolen from an employer in the past.

Typically, it’s illegal for companies to use polygraphs in pre-employment screenings and in random or specific testing of their employees. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, if you apply for a job or work for a pharmaceutical manufacturing company or distributor or a company involved in security, you’ll have to comply with a polygraph policy to get the job.

The polygraph exam is a nerve-wracking experience for most people. As human beings, we have an instinctual fear of the unknown. We don’t know what to expect when we enter the exam room to take the lie detector test, which leads to anxiety and nervousness.

The examiner has a duty to you to make you feel at ease before and during the lie detector test. They play a central role in the process, and understanding them helps reduce your fear and anxiety of undergoing the polygraph.

This post unpacks everything you need to know about the polygraph examiner. We’ll cover their role in the lie detector test, their duties, and their interaction with you before and during the exam.


What is a Polygraph Examiner?

The polygraph examiner is a qualified and experienced professional. They receive qualifications, certification, and licensing to do their job through extensive learning and practical experience, usually lasting six to seven years.

The examiner must attend and graduate from university, go to polygraph school, and work as an intern in the field before they can conduct exams themselves. So, when you walk into the exam room, you know you’re dealing with a trained professional.

These individuals have good communication skills and training to help them ensure you have a smooth, seamless, and pleasant experience during your time in the exam room.

The polygraph examiner is a master of detecting deception. They know how to phrase questions using techniques to ensure there’s no ambiguity when presenting them to examinees. They’ll use questioning to delve deeper into examinees’ answers if they detect a deceptive response while remaining within the boundaries of the law and their ethical code.


What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Polygraph Examiner?

The polygraph examiner is responsible for the entire lie detector test process from start to finish. These duties include the pre-test phase and the exam itself. The polygraph exam involves you entering the exam room, where they initiate you into the process.

They ask you if you have any questions about the exam and if you’re feeling nervous. These questions don’t involve interrogation techniques, and they aren’t trying to make you feel uncomfortable or position them as an authority you need to be afraid of.

In fact, their role is quite the opposite. The examiner’s goal is to make you feel calm and relaxed. They’ll do everything they can to put your mind at ease. When you’re ready to take the test, they hook you up to the instrumentation, explaining what it does. After they have you wired into the lie detector machine, they’ll start the test.

The polygraph examiner’s job is to conduct the test. They’ll ask you a series of questions presented to you before the exam, and they won’t deviate from the script. They must comply with all legislation surrounding the legal and ethical administration of the test.

The examiner is a highly trained professional, and they value their integrity and reputation. So, you can expect them to adhere to the law and not to step outside their boundaries during the exam.

During the exam, they monitor the equipment while asking you questions and looking at data to interpret whether you’re showing any signs of deception. These individuals have specific tasks they complete before and during the test, some of which include the following.

  • The examiner meets with attorneys and clients to structure a questionnaire for the exam.
  • They keep records and prepare written reports on their findings for the client or authorities.
  • They testify in court about their findings in the exam and later analysis.
  • They operate and maintain lie detector testing equipment.


How Do Examiners Prepare for a Lie Detector Test?

Examiners prepare for a lie detector test by meeting with attorneys and clients. They’ll develop a script for the exam process while advising the client on the legal parameters involved with the testing process, as per “The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA).

The examiner presents the client with the legal paperwork they must submit to the candidate or employee before undergoing the exam. They’ll also arrange a venue for the testing at the client’s premises or off-site.

When test day arrives, the examiner arrives in advance of the test and sets up the venue to their specifications. They’ll test the equipment to ensure it’s in working order and prepare their questionnaire for the employee or candidate.

The examinee also ensured the client presented the employee with the correct information before taking the lie detector test. It’s the examiners’ duty to ensure the client acts within the boundaries of the law, including the EPPA, before test day.

They must make themselves available to the client and, in some cases, the examinee before the lie detector test answering questions on the process. The examiner must act in good faith at all times and ensure the examinee understands what to expect during the polygraph exam.


Conducting the Lie Detector Test

As mentioned, when the employee or candidate arrives in the exam room, the examiner initiates them into the exam process. Their job is to make the examinee feel as relaxed as possible, ensuring they’re comfortable as possible with everything they’re about to endure.

When the test begins, the examiner runs through their questionnaire, examining the feedback between the examinee, the instrumentation, and the software they have on their laptop. The polygraph software interacts with the instrumentation placed on the examinee’s body.

It analyzes the candidate or employee’s physiological responses to the question, and the examiner has years of training helping them interpret these results. If they think you might be deceptive in your answers, they’ll repeat the question to confirm their findings.

At no stage during the exam does the examiner become authoritative or place pressure on the examinee. If you feel like you’re having the onset of a panic attack, the examiner will ask you if you want to discontinue the test and leave the exam area.

Under no circumstances will they try to stop you from leaving the exam room if you want to exit the area. After you complete the lie detector test, the examiner will thank you for your time. However, they won’t divulge their opinion of your test results.

You can’t call the examiner after the test and ask for your results; they only deal with the client. Your time with them in the exam room is likely the last time you’ll see or hear from them. There may be exceptions to this if it’s a criminal investigation.

If that’s the case, you might see the examiner in the courtroom when they testify on the exam results. However, you won’t have any contact with them during this process.


Interpreting Polygraph Exam Results

The examiners’ primary function is to conduct the test and use their tools to determine if you’re being deceptive. Examiners are trained, experienced professionals. Not only do they have the training necessary to accurately read the polygraph results generated by the software, but they have communication skills in body language as well.

The examiner will video record the session and use this data during their post-exam analysis. They’ll watch how your body responds to questions where they think you might be lying to them. They’ll look at feedback from your eyes, gestures, and movements to determine if you provide physical cues to indicate deceptive behavior.

The examiner is also an expert in identifying countermeasures during the exam. There are several techniques examinees may use to throw off the lie detector device and software during the exam. Some countermeasures involve curling the toes when answering questions.

Or the examinee may resort to taking drugs like Xanax and beta-blockers before the test to reduce the body’s nervous system response to the questioning process. Talented and experienced examiners have the training to identify these countermeasures and question the examinee about their use during the test.

The examiner will present the client with the findings of the test results 24 to 48 hours after finishing the exam. They are not permitted by law to share your exam results with anyone but the client. They’ll write a report and issue it to the client or keep it to prepare for criminal cases where they must present their findings in court.


Maintaining Objectivity and Neutrality

The polygraph examiner must always remain neutral and objective before, during, and after the test. Examiners undergo periodic lie detector tests by their employees to ensure they maintain the highest standards of integrity and ethics.

Under no circumstances can the examiner develop a bias towards or against the client or the examinee. They must remain impartial to the procedure and wholly objective in their findings. If the examiner breaks this code, they risk ruining their industry reputation.

The examiner is forbidden from tampering with any test results or equipment during the exam process or post-exam. They are under the duty of ensuring test reliability and accuracy. A large part of the examiner’s training involves the application of ethics and moral code.

These professionals risk their business, reputation, and legal liability if they break this code of ethics. So, you can rest assured knowing that the examiner always acts in good faith.


The Examiner Networks with Other Industry Professionals

The polygraph examiner networks with other professionals in their industry. They’ll attend trade conferences and seminars annually to meet other examiners and people involved in the polygraph industry.

This practice builds their reputation and their reach in the industry. Most examiners will develop a relationship with a mentor or mentors during their period qualifying for the job. They’ll maintain these relationships as they advance with their career, relying on their mentors for guidance.


The Examiner Maintains Standards of Excellence through Ongoing Training

The polygraph industry is ever-changing, and the examiner must keep up their knowledge on the changes to questioning techniques, instrumentation, software, and the law surrounding the use of polygraph techniques.

For instance, the industry saw a huge change with the introduction of polygraph software in the 1990s. At this time, Polygraph examiners working in the field required adaptation from the old systems of the past to the new digital solutions of the future.

The same is happening in the industry today with the introduction of AI-based polygraph solutions to the industry. It’s the examiner’s duty to stay on top of these changes and ensure they understand how to implement them in their job.

A polygraph examiner is not merely an operator of a machine; they are skilled professionals who possess a deep understanding of human psychology, physiology, and the legal framework within which they operate. Their primary role is to conduct polygraph tests, which involve measuring and recording physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity while the subject is asked and answers a series of questions. The premise is that deceptive answers will produce physiological responses that can be detected by the polygraph.

Techniques and Methodologies

Polygraph examiners employ various testing techniques to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the test results. These techniques include:

  1. Paired Testing Techniques: Such as the Air Force Modified General Question Test (AFMGQT), Backster You-Phase, and Federal You Phase, among others, which are designed to differentiate between truthful and deceptive responses by comparing physiological responses to control and relevant questions.
  2. Investigative Techniques: These are tailored to the specific context of the investigation and may include the Concealed Information Test (CIT) and the Directed Lie Screening Test (DLST), which are aimed at detecting knowledge or involvement in a specific incident or crime.
  3. Diagnostic and Screening Studies: Polygraph studies are classified into diagnostic, where there’s a known issue or event, and screening, which is more exploratory in nature without a specific incident in question. This distinction is crucial for the examiner in choosing the appropriate approach and questions for the test.

Continuous Improvement and Ethical Considerations

The field of polygraphy is marked by continuous improvement and adaptation of new methodologies. The American Polygraph Association plays a pivotal role in this by developing and evaluating new techniques, ensuring that they are backed by scientific research and ethical considerations. This includes the establishment of standards for test formats, question construction, and the interpretation of results, all aimed at minimizing errors and improving the quality of polygraph examinations.

The Essence of Polygraph Testing

At its core, polygraph testing is about more than just detecting lies; it’s about understanding human behavior under the scrutiny of truth. Polygraph examiners must navigate the complexities of human psychology, ensuring that the questions are structured in a way that elicits clear physiological responses that can be accurately interpreted. This requires a high level of skill and expertise, underscoring the importance of the examiner in the polygraph testing process.


The role of the polygraph examiner is critical in ensuring the integrity and effectiveness of polygraph testing. Through the application of scientifically validated techniques, continuous professional development, and adherence to ethical standards, examiners contribute to the advancement of the field. As the science behind polygraph testing continues to evolve, the expertise and dedication of polygraph examiners will remain central to the pursuit of truth and justice.