How to Become a Private Investigator

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Private investigators work to uncover information about a crime, the identity of a person, or the cause of a fire or accident. They analyze, verify and provide this information to their clients or employers. Private investigators can specialize in fields such as law, finance, computer forensics, security and property loss. Many investigators possess a postsecondary qualification and a state-issued license.

Earn the Degree

Although individuals with a high school diploma can qualify for the job, many positions require advanced academic credentials. Aspiring legal and criminal investigators must earn at least an associate degree in police science, justice or criminal law, while corporate, property and financial investigators need a bachelor’s in business, accounting or finance. Computer forensic investigators also require a bachelor's degree in computer science or information technology.

Acquire the Skills

Competent private investigators are very inquisitive. When interviewing a person, they focus on obtaining as much relevant information as possible through their questioning. Investigators use analytical skills to evaluate this information and decision-making skills to determine whether it is credible. Investigators who are licensed to carry guns must possess great technical skills to use them safely and properly. Other useful competences include good communication skills and the ability to conduct long investigations without losing patience.

Obtain the License

All states except Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho and Mississippi require private investigators to hold a license, as of 2014. Although requirements vary by state, licensees must generally have a high school diploma, possess some relevant work experience, and pass a criminal background check and a written examination. Investigators who are licensed to practice in other professions, such as finance, may be exempt from obtaining a private investigation license. Investigators can prove their expertise by obtaining relevant credentials, such as the Professional Certified Investigator or Certified Legal Investigator certifications, which are offered by ASIS International and the National Association of Legal Investigators, respectively.

Secure a Job

Qualified private investigators may be hired by businesses, law firms, individuals, private investigation companies and government intelligence agencies. After gaining vast job experience, some investigators progress to becoming private investigation managers, and others establish their own private investigation businesses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment for private detectives and investigators is expected to grow by 11 percent from 2012 through 2022, equal to the average for all occupations.

Private Detectives and Investigators salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $96,950 ($46.61/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $53,320 ($25.63/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $31,440 ($15.12/hour)