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How to Become a Private Investigator

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Snooping Around in Other People's Business

For many years, Dashiell Hammett’s character, Sam Spade, was the public image of a private investigator, with his trenchcoat collar turned up and the ever-present cigarette. Today, countless literary PIs have caught the public imagination, each with a completely different style, location and business practice. Think of the differences between Magnum, P.I., Miss Marple, Lisbeth Salander and Inspector Jacques Clouseau. These fictional depictions demonstrate the one firm rule about private investigators: There are no firm rules. Investigators can work as their own boss, which means that this is a career suitable for parents of young children who want to work part time or have set hours that allow quality time at home.

Job Description

Private detectives and investigators track down information about people, often of a legal, financial or personal nature. They offer many services and can tailor their work to the needs of their clients. Private investigators verify backgrounds, determine the accuracy of statements, locate missing persons and solve computer crimes. Sometimes, they work with police to solve crimes.

Education Requirements

For private detectives and investigators, experience is more important than education in terms of building a reputation. Most private investigation training is completed on the job. In this career, you typically work on your own, so a college degree is usually not required, although most PIs hold at least a high school diploma. Some specialties, such as computer forensic investigators, must have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology.

Many states require investigators to have a license and can impose additional educational requirements. Some states require more than do other states in terms of education and experience.

For example, in Florida, those wishing to be private investigators must get a license. To sit for the exam, an individual must complete 24 hours of coursework at a public or private educational institution to obtain a certification of completion. You also need to find a private investigator with a “C,” “M” or “MA” license to sponsor you. Pick the type of license, study for the exam, pay the fee and sit for the two-hour exam. You must submit proof that you passed the private investigator Florida exam and list credentials and work history for the license.

The median annual wage for private detectives and investigators is $48,190. Median means the halfway point, so half of all PIs earn less than this amount, and half earn more.


Many private investigators, some 25 percent, work for themselves. Others work for agencies or insurance companies.

Years of Experience

When you first begin work in this field, your salary will be approximately 15 percent lower than the average wages in your area for this career. At mid-career, a private detective will earn 3 percent above the average; more experienced investigators earn some 17 percent higher; and, at career’s end, 45 percent higher.

Job Growth Trends

Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for private detectives and investigators stems from security concerns and the need to protect confidential information. Strong competition can be expected for jobs.