Become a Polygraph Examiner: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a polygraph examiner. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information and experience you will need to start a career in this field. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Be a Polygraph Examiner?

A polygraph examiner, or polygraphist, uses a variety of instruments to measure respiratory, sweat gland and cardiovascular responses to questions posed during an oral examination. He or she then interprets the results of the examination to render an opinion as to the truthfulness of the examinee's responses. Polygraph tests are primarily used by attorneys, probation and parole departments and law enforcement agencies.

Typically, a polygraph examiner works in a comfortable, climate-controlled office. These professionals may have to travel somewhat to administer tests at various locations. Because polygraph tests are not infallible, those who give these tests might experience stress, worrying about the possibility of declaring an examinee as truthful when they are not or deceitful when they are not.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Accredited polygraph training program; bachelor's degree may be required by some employers or for state licensure
Degree Fields Criminal justice, psychology, social science, and behavioral science
Licensure/Certification Licensure varies by state; some employers may require certification in certain specialties
Experience Work experience in law enforcement, psychology, or investigations
Key Skills Excellent oral and written communication and analytical skills; ability to handle confrontation; basic computer and word processing skills; proficiency in polygraph equipment and software; ability to pass background checks, fingerprinting, or security clearance; high ethical standards and no criminal history; meet state-specified age requirements
Salary $45,300 (2015 median for all other life, physical, and social science technicians)

Sources: American Polygraph Association (APA), various polygraph schools, Careerbuilder.com and government job postings, June-July, 2012, various state licensing agencies, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Polygraph examiners need to complete an accredited polygraph training program, and a bachelor's degree may be required by some employers or for licensure, which might be a requirement in some states. Relevant majors include criminal justice, psychology, social science and behavioral science. Additionally, some employers may require certification in certain specialties, which can be obtained through professional organizations. These professionals often have experience in law enforcement, psychology or investigations.

They should have excellent oral and written communication skills and analytical abilities, as well as the ability to handle confrontation. Additionally, they need basic computer and word processing skills; proficiency in polygraph equipment and software; and the ability to pass background checks, fingerprinting or security clearance. They must also have high ethical standards and no criminal history and meet state-specified age requirements. According to 2015 earnings data gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for life, physical and social science technicians was $45,300.

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Steps to Be a Polygraph Examiner

Step 1: Take a Polygraph Examiner Course

The American Polygraph Association accredits polygraph training programs. Most accredited training programs take up to 18 months to complete, including an internship, field experience or independent study requirement. Some schools may require applicants to have an associate or bachelor's degree in a related field or have related work experience.

The academic portion of the program usually lasts 8-10 weeks and typically requires full-time weekday attendance. Programs cover test question formulation, ethics and legal issues related to polygraph examinations. Students learn appropriate interview techniques and how to use polygraph technology and equipment to monitor cardiovascular, galvanic skin and breathing responses from examinees. They also learn how to accurately interpret exam results.

Step 2: Complete Fieldwork or Independent Study Requirement

After successfully completing the polygraph examiner course, candidates have 1-2 years to complete an internship or fieldwork requirement. Within that time, an intern must complete a certain number of polygraph examinations under the supervision of a working polygraph examiner, and she or he may be required to maintain files on these cases for examination by her or his school. In some instances, a research paper can be submitted to fulfill the internship requirement. Each school determines how many exams must be conducted to complete the program, but the number is often between 10 and 25.

Step 3: Take Voluntary Certification Exams

Graduates of an approved polygraph school may apply for membership in the American Polygraph Association (APA). Working polygraph examiners may apply for professional certification through participating state or regional polygraph examiners' associations, such as the Ohio Association of Polygraph Examiners and the Northwest Polygraph Examiners Association. Membership in these professional organizations often requires the applicant to have completed a minimum of 200 polygraph examinations and meet ethical requirements.

Specialized exams for those focusing on a particular aspect of polygraph examination are also available. Individuals can, for example, become Certified Forensic Law Enforcement Polygraph Examiners or specialize in post-conviction sex offender testing and domestic violence perpetrator testing. Police examiners can join the American Association of Police Polygraphists (AAPP). The American Polygraph Association also offers a Certificate of Advanced and Specialized Training. Specialized testing may require additional training.

Step 4: Pass a State Licensing Examination

States that require licensing may require polygraph examiner trainees to possess a valid trainee license and complete a certain number of polygraph examinations or fulfill internship requirements prior to sitting for the licensure exam. State licensure exams often include multiple-choice questions and a polygraph examination simulation. Some states also require an oral interview with an advisory council or board. Many state licensing agencies require that the applicant be fingerprinted and submit to background checks.

Step 5: Participate in Continuing Education and Training

Polygraph examiners must stay up-to-date with current practices and changes in the profession. In some states, renewal of a polygraph examiner license may be contingent upon continued training, which may be required as frequently as every year. Professional associations may also require that their members take continuing education courses in order to maintain professional certification and good standing in the organization. In addition, polygraph examiners can take advantage of current job listings and journals that are accessible through services offered by organizations such as the American Polygraph Association.

Polygraph examiners need to complete an accredited training program and often need relevant experience, as well as a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as criminal justice, psychology or law enforcement. State licensure might also be required.

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