What to Wear for a Polygraph Test

polygraph testWhat do you wear for a polygraph test, particularly if it’s in the same building as HR?  Reader L wonders:

Help! I applied for a position that requires a polygraph. Mine is scheduled for next week and I am concerned about what to wear. It is in the same building as HR and I do not know if I will have an interview then. I would normally wear a business suit but my suits are all paired with camisoles (due to style, 3/4 sleeves, etc.) I am concerned about this because isn’t there a chest strap you are hooked up to? This is a professional position and I am thinking of wearing a blazer and dress slacks and dark cashmere shell that hopefully I will not sweat into from nerves. This is my go-to outfit I wear to work when I do not have court because it is most comfortable and still looks nice. Have you had to think about a physical comfort issue when interviewing and choosing your outfit? For what it is worth I was informed the polygraph will be 90minutes long.

Interesting question!  We’ve talked about how to stay professional at the metal detectors, and how to wear an ID badge with style, but we’ve never addressed polygraph tests for job interviews.  My gut instinct here tells me, “call and ask” (always an option, ladies!) but in case anyone in the readership has experience with this, I’ll open it up to the readers. Poking around online I did find a number of similar questions, primarily from men about to take police exams — the serious answer seemed to be “business casual,” with the less serious answers ranging from “chicken suit” to “For your polygraph wear a tuxedo. Then go naked to your psyc eval.” Ha! Ha. Ok.

That said — I can see this being one of those times that it really is harder for women. Do they need access to your skin? Which skin (i.e., around your waist/midriff)? Just your arms? I suspect these answers vary based on the specific type of machine, so, again, I’d call. If I had to go in blind, I’d go in wearing something professional but very layer-friendly — pants or a skirt, a “work friendly” tank top (nothing too tight, no bra straps showing) — exactly like the shell that Reader L envisions — and then a cardigan or blazer on top of that. If you’re the type who wears a lot of waist-cinching undergarments (e.g., Spanx’s Higher Power, or the Yummie Tummie type of camisole-girdles that smooth out any belly bulges), I’d skip ’em for the test, on the off chance you do have to raise your shirt for some part of the test.  Above all else — be comfortable! You don’t want your clothes to affect your performance on the test.

Readers, what would you wear to a polygraph test you were taking as part of a job interview? (And for what reason did you have to take the test? I’m guessing a polygraph test is fairly common for AUSA-types, but maybe I’m wrong.)

Pictured: Polygraph, originally uploaded to Flickr by spiralstares.


  1. Tired Squared :

    This doesn’t even sound like a serious question. Wear clothes! The same clothes you would wear to work should be fine, if perhaps slightly nicer – but there’s no harm in showing up slightly overdressed to a polygraph.

    • My reaction, too. I think calling whoever told you it would take 90 minutes to see if there was anything you need to bring or be prepared for is a good idea to calm your nerves (if knowing what to expect will help you). And can’t you ask HR if you should plan to spend time on site before or after the polygraph so you will know if you also have an interview?

      You could bring a looser fitting, decent-looking t-shirt (dark color that won’t show sweat) to change into if you are not comfortable with what you wear. If you don’t have one, seriously, I would consider it a good investment to go buy one.

    • Wildkitten :

      I don’t think there’s any way to dress that would be not-weird with a chest strap.

      • Diana Barry :

        +1. I think the real issue is that all of OP’s suits are worn with camis. I would wear a dark colored short sleeve t-shirt, probably synthetic material.

  2. DTLA meet-up :

    For those who missed the last post: it is happening! at 5:30 PM at Seven Grand (downtown whiskey bar) on Thursday 4/17.

    So far three of us are in — hope more can join!

    • Senior Attorney :

      C’mon, ladies! It’ll be fun!

    • Ooh! It’ll be challenging to get there by 5:30 from the west side, but I will try! How will we identify each other? A scrunchie on a pole?

      • DTLA meet-up :

        Ha! I will have a really big smile and be on the lookout for slightly-confused-looking-but-very-well-heeled ladies! E-mail me at d t l a r e t t e at g mail with any questions!

        • Ooh I’m a young attorney new-ish to LA and I’d love to join! I’m seriously in the market to meet ladies after moving here from Manhattan.

  3. OCAssociate :

    This would be fun, but I’m firmly below the Orange Curtain and can’t make it to DTLA on weeknight. Have a great time!

  4. LyonsTigersandBears :

    I might consider a high-neck sheath dress (sleeveless for arm access) and a blazer. It could be the least awkward with a chest strap – no neckline issues.

    • Wildkitten :

      I assume a third party puts the strap on you, right? So it would be weird to have to take your whole dress off for that.

      • Stormborn :

        Oh it would go over your clothes right? I dont think it goes under.

        • Wildkitten :

          You are right! (I googled pictures). I was thinking it was like a heart rate monitor.

  5. I've done this :

    Wear whatever you are comfortable in. I found it to be a truly excruciating experience. HR has surely seen all kinds of outfits.

  6. Wear slacks, short sleeved shirt and comfortable flats. Skirts are unwise.
    You will be asked to wear the device around your bust, and a fingertip device measuring oxygen. You will also be instructed on where to look, how to place your feet, etc. and will be asked to sit still.
    So, don’t wear uncomfortable (or unbreathable) clothes because you will not be allowed to shift or fidget during the exam. (Most examiners will allow you to stretch if you need, but it’s at their discretion and you won’t be allowed to stretch often.)
    Best of luck.

    • I've done a few of these, too :

      and I agree that Sarah gave you a very good answer. I would absolutely not wear a skirt. The thing that goes around your chest is pretty loose, so you don’t need to wear anything special to accommodate it. You will definitely need to take off a blazer or jacket, but I think I’ve been allowed to keep a thin cardigan on. If you’re usually cold, that may be something to consider, comfort-wise.

      Good luck. I hate sitting for polygraphs, and I think they’re a pretty stupid exercise. I’m not sure what kind of job you are applying for, but just know that in many cases you can appeal a failed polygraph and retest. Polygraphs are uncomfortable enough without worrying about what to wear and the outcomes if you get things wrong. If you have nothing to hide, you will be fine.

      • Anonylicious :

        This exactly. Wear something comfortable. The shell under the blazer is a good idea. There will probably be somewhere you can hang your blazer up.

  7. I agree with Sarah – consider comfort before style. Fidgeting can skew the results. Very good question!

  8. Good lord, are polygraphs for job applicants really a thing?

    • Anonymous :

      Plenty of jobs requiring security clearance (think: federal law enforcement, for just one example) would legitimately involve a polygraph for applicants.

  9. I haven’t ever taken a polygraph, but I have a lot of friends who have. You should know that due to the nature of the polygraph it is very common for people to cry, so make sure you have any supplies you would need to freshen up makeup etc. just in case.

  10. There’s actually a law that prohibits this for the vast majority of job applicants and employees – Employee Polygraph Protection Act. I wrote my note in law school on it. In case anyone is interested – http://thelejer.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/pegram-barnhorn-final.pdf

  11. OP on polygraph question :

    OP here. I can assure you this was a sincere question. I ended up wearing a sleeveless shell under a regular suit and sure enough I had to remove the jacket for the whole polygraph. It did indeed last 90 minutes or so. I did not end up seeing HR that day but there was a video recorder so I guess they were watching then or later. My primary concern was looking professional while being cool because it was a sweat-inducing situation.

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