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Polygraph examiners are trained and certified to give lie detector tests to individuals involved in criminal trials, such as witnesses and suspects. Lie detector tests are often crucial to the outcome of a trial, and polygraph examiners are responsible for making sure the tests are administered properly. Though the formal education requirements for polygraph examiners are minimal, the examiners do need special training and certifications to work legally. These qualifications can usually be met within a few years.
Polygraph examiners don’t need a lot of formal education, but most have at least a bachelor’s degree, and employers typically prefer candidates who do. Recommended majors for aspiring polygraph examiners include political science, communications, criminology, journalism, psychology and criminal justice. Students should take courses that require public speaking and interviewing, as these are important skills to develop for the career. A foundational knowledge of law is also required of polygraph examiners, so candidates should take classes in constitutional law or other basic American law.
All polygraph examiners must be certified by the American Polygraph Association. To obtain this certification, candidates must participate in a polygraph examiner training course and pass a state administered examination. Students in the polygraph examiner course learn how to correctly hook up the equipment to the interviewee, how to properly interview someone, how to analyze results, how to write reports for the courts and other skills. A veteran certified polygraph examiner usually teaches the course, and students typically perform tests on fellow students.
Skills and Personal Qualities
A number of skills and personal qualities are required by polygraph examiners to be successful. Excellent oral communications skills are essential because polygraph examiners must be able to give affective interviews. They use these skills to read and interpret an interviewee’s gestures and mannerisms to determine if he is lying. Having excellent English and grammar skills are also important, as polygraph examiners often have to write up official court documents. Polygraph examiners should be comfortable working under extreme pressure, should be able to maintain confidentiality and accurately follow step-by-step procedures.
Polygraph examiners usually start out working with a local police department conducting tests and interviews on alleged criminals. If they build up a solid reputation and lots of experience they may become eligible to work in a higher level court system. The annual salary range for a polygraph examiner according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $27,310 to $72,450 as of May 2006. Those who work for the FBI, CIA or other top government organization tend to earn significantly more than those who work at the more local, small-scale level. Polygraph examiners usually receive excellent benefit packages and don’t work on government holidays.