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Ask Molly: Lie Detector Test

March 3, 2021


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Dear Molly,

I would really love to work for CIA, and think I would be a great candidate, but I’m nervous about taking a lie detector test. It’s not that I have anything to hide, I just feel like my results wouldn’t be accurate because of my crazy nerves! What do you recommend I do?

Nerves of Jello


Dear Nerves of Jello,

Firstly, I’m so glad to hear you’re considering a job with CIA! Few places you might work will match the CIA in dedication to mission, quality of the workforce, and sense of accomplishment after a hard day’s work. If you do decide to move forward with your application – and I hope you do – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I can’t be certain, but I would be willing to bet that you aren’t the first person who has shown some hesitation to apply because of the polygraph – or ‘lie detector’ – portion of the process. At face value, it is a bit intimidating, though I think a lot of that has to do more with the pre-polygraph anxiety than the event itself. Think about how the polygraph has been portrayed to you in the past. Was it in a movie or tv show? Did you read a fictional book or article? Chances are that your only perception of the polygraph process has been informed by pop culture references, almost always in some sort of over-dramatized depiction.

I’m here to tell you that the actual polygraph is far less intimidating than your mind might make it out to be. We’re talking less Jason Bourne and more Meet the Parents, if cinema is your thing. But seriously, the polygraph isn’t a strategy to ‘psych out’ potential officers. It is a tool, which is leveraged to assess a person’s strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, and reliability; nothing more, nothing less. Given the access to sensitive information afforded to CIA officers, it is important we use every tool at our disposal to determine a person’s suitability for employment.

To your point about nerves affecting the outcome of the test, understand that CIA polygraph examiners are some of the world’s most capable security professionals. They are well-trained in the use of polygraph instruments and are skilled in properly assessing the results. That is to say, they know how to distinguish nerves from deception. If you’re concerned that the examiner might conflate the two, let me ease your worries: our examiners are incredibly good at what they do.

If I haven’t been up to this point, let me be very clear: if you want to work for CIA, don’t let a fear of the polygraph be the one reason that stops you. We’re not looking for perfect people, we’re looking for honest people. If you are candid and forthright through the process, the polygraph will not be an issue.

So take a deep breath, calm your nerves, and submit that application!


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