Private investigators find facts about people and illicit activity and present the information to clients. There are several types of private investigators. Some work with manufacturers and financial institutions, while others specialize in forensics or investigations for individuals. If you are honest and resourceful and have communication and problem-solving skills, a career as a private investigator may be your true calling.
Investigation for Individuals
Some private investigators work specifically for individuals. They meet with and interview clients and obtain necessary facts about the people they are to investigate. As an investigator of individuals, you also set up surveillance on suspected parties, following and watching what they do and where they go. Research in cases involving financial disputes may also include reviewing bank statements and credit card transactions for evidence.
Computer Forensics and Legal Investigators
Computer forensics and legal investigations are two distinct specialties in private investigation work. Investigators in computer forensics research, analyze and present data taken from computers, including files, pictures and emails. You may also be required to track actions on pornographic sites to catch sexual predators. Legal private investigators gather and verify facts in criminal cases. They also find witnesses and serve legal documents to alleged perpetrators.
Corporate and Financial Investigators
Private investigators may also specialize in corporate or financial investigations. Corporate investigators check employees for drug use and illicit activities such as padding expense accounts or pilferage. As an investigator of this type, you may also conduct employment checks on candidates before they are hired. These professionals also investigate fraudulent billing of customers, or people who use credit cards illegally to purchase items. Financial investigators oversee corporate activities in which large transactions are involved, including purchases of securities or stocks. In this field, you might help individuals and businesses recover lost assets from theft cases.
Private investigators spend time behind desks as well as in the field. The work can be physically draining and stressful, as they often deal with distraught and demanding clients. In this area you may work odd hours, as tracking and surveillance are often conducted at night. Private investigators also have a potentially dangerous job, as some suspects are perpetrators who are fighting for their freedom. Some will do anything to protect themselves, which increases your risk of getting injured or even killed.
Education and Training
Some private investigators have a college education, while others substitute experience for college degrees. Corporate and financial investigators are usually required to have a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance or business. Training is mostly on-the-job, though many private investigators are former law enforcement officers who know the operational procedures for investigations. Most states require private investigators to be licensed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Average Salary and Job Outlook
Private investigators earned an average salary of $48,610 per year as of May 2011, according to the BLS. They earned the most in Washington state, at $65,460 per year. Those in New York earned salaries closer to the national average -- $51,360 annually. And private investigators in Florida earned considerably less at $44,680 per year. The BLS indicates that jobs for these professionals are expected to show an increase of 21 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the 14 percent national average for all jobs.