Very few police applicants have done anything serious enough to cause them to fail a pre-employment polygraph exam. It is estimated that less than 15% of the applicants applying for law enforcement positions have done anything serious enough to justify that they be excluded from law enforcement.
You should be asking why, then, are almost all applicants afraid to "fail" the test? Even more important - if less than 15% should fail, why do about 40% of applicants falsify a response to the polygraph operator and find themselves eliminated - not for what they did - but for lying to the operator? That's right - your math is correct - about 1/4 or 25% of applicants are eliminated who shouldn't be.
While it is generally true that an applicant cannot be eliminated on the mere suspicion that they are lying, the mere suspicion of lying raises all sorts of red flags with police personnel officers and background investigators. They will then not want to recommend you for employment. The agency will find a reason not to hire you, or to hire other applicants before you.
If you are facing a police employment polygraph, you MUST find out what it is that will eliminate you from consideration from police employment in your state. Every state has a web site detailing the law enforcement standards for employment. Find it for your state and locate the information that eliminates candidates, typically: chronic alcoholism and drug use, a felony conviction or a conviction on certain types of misdemeanors, or continuous convictions on minor crimes like theft, gambling, assault, prostitution. Another is a dishonorable discharge from military service, or a discharge under "less than honorable" conditions. What about a "general discharge?" That's the point. Find out! Every state is different, you need to know the specific rules in your state.
Once you know this list of eliminating background history items, ask yourself if any of those things apply to you. If the answer is YES - sorry - I suggest that you not apply for a job in law enforcement.
If the answer is NO - then you should apply - but do NOT lie on your application, NOT to the polygraph operator, personnel officer, background investigator or anyone else about any aspect of your personal history. Even if you "get away with" a lie, it WILL be found out and you will be immediately terminated, regardless of how many years of service you have had and how good of an employment record you have had. Terminated not for the act itself, but for lying about it. Not fair? That is exactly what the agency will be thinking, it was not fair that you lied and caused the problem that may cost them the employment of an otherwise good police officer!
The message here should be clear to you. Find out what is specified as disqualifying for employment through your state's law enforcement standards and training commission. Tell the truth if you apply. If you are harboring a secret about a disqualifying event of any type, find other employment.
If you do decide to lie or try and "trick" the polygraph operator, whatever clever trick some book or web site tries to convince you to use to "beat the polygraph," rest assured that advice is for meant for fools. Police polygraph operators are professionals who have their training updated, and they are aware of these countermeasures and take measures to watch for them. You will be spotted and eliminated from police employment. See my special advice on the right column.
What are the 16 STANDARD police employment polygraph questions? They appear below. Note that the number of questions, the exact wording, number of quoted years, amounts and other numeric values in these questions can change from year to year, agency to agency and state to state.
You are not "failed" just by giving the "wrong" answer to one or more of these questions. You will have the opportunity to discuss the exact circumstances with the polygraph operator, who may or may not run the entire or portions of the polygraph exam once again. Then based on the discussion, a re-run of the exam or just certain portions of it, her or she will decide to include the details or not in their polygraph report, and in a recommendation to continue to test you for further employment or to eliminate you.
The standard 16 questions are, not necessarily in order:
1. Did you tell the complete truth on your job application?
2. Have you deliberately withheld information from your job application?
3. Have you ever been fired or asked to resign from any job?
4. Are you seeking a permanent position with this police department?
5. Since the age of 12 have you committed an undetected crime?
6. Since the age of 12 have you been convicted of a crime?
7. Have you used marijuana in the last 2 years?
8. Have you used cocaine, heroin, meth, LSD or any other dangerous drug in the past 5 years?
9. Have you sold marijuana or narcotics illegally in the past 10 years?
10. Have you stolen more than $20 in merchandise from employers?
11. Have you stolen more than $20 in money from employers?
12. Have you ever used a system to cheat one of your employers?
13. Have you ever had your driver's license suspended or revoked?
14. Have you had any traffic citations in the past five (5) years?
15. Are you seeking a job with this police department for any reason other than legitimate employment?
16. Have you deliberately lied to any of these questions?
Sign up to receive the
FREE POAJS self-assessment
exam along with our
newsletter. Your email address and all your information will
always stay private and confidential. Here is our
Policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Sign Up Now
I performed over 500 police officer interviews. The experience is detailed in my best-selling book, Confessions of a Hardass - with instructions on how to pass your police oral board interview. Many other bonus items are included in the 29.95 Police Entry Level Testing Course.