How to Become a Private Investigator

Private investigators, also known as private detectives, can be hired to perform an inquiry to examine facts.  These investigators may be hired by individuals or groups to research a specific situation.  They can work in the civil or criminal fields and can work for law enforcement agencies, private investigation firms, or can be self-employed.  These investigators must follow the law according to their state. 

What Do Private Investigators Do?

Typical Day
A typical day as a private investigator can vary and your hours are versatile.  One day you may be working on an insurance fraud case, where you are following a paper trail and performing surveillance to see their day-to-day activities.  Another day, you may be on your computer searching records and documents to track a cheating spouse.  Another day may include an out of town trip to interview acquaintances of someone you are performing a background check on for a new job.  This type of job is not mundane and will always keep you on your toes. The more experience you have investigating and researching, the better and quicker you will be at solving civil and criminal investigations.

There are several different tasks that a private investigator may be responsible for performing. Tasks include:
  • Conducting private investigations for individuals or businesses
  • Conducting background checks on individuals
  • Investigating insurance claims and tracking stolen funds
  • Searching public records and pulling credit reports on individuals
  • Taking photos and video during surveillance
  • Writing reports that document the investigation
  • Using software to track information (Excel, Word) and photo imaging software
  • Understanding the law and ensuring your work is all legal in nature

Characteristics of a Private Investigator

There are several personal qualities that must be inherent to a private investigator.  Those who are great problem solvers will do well in this role.  They should also be very skilled in the art of active listening, where they give others their full attention and ask questions when appropriate without causing unnecessary interruptions.  They should also be good at speaking with others and using critical thinking skills. Having the ability to problem solve very complex issues is the key to solving investigations.  Private investigators must also be extremely organized and able to recall information easily to help with piecing the puzzle together.  Having these talents and skills will set you a part from the rest and make you a highly sought after private investigator.

Education and Training

The education required for a typical entry-level private investigator is a high school diploma.  However, a degree in criminal justice may put you ahead of the rest.  Most of the training is received on-the-job.  There are many states that require private investigators to acquire a license to practice.  This license may have requirements for classroom training hours and an exam. There is also a background check to ensure you are of the proper moral turpitude required for the field.

Salary Outlook

When looking at the median pay in 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that private detectives make approximately $50,700/year.  That equates to $24.38/hour. 

This field is actually predicted to grow at a pace of 11% over the years of 2016-2026.  Although there are more jobs in this field than before that also means the competition is also much greater for these jobs. 

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor,, Occupational Outlook

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