Private investigators, or detectives, assist the public, businesses and lawyers in obtaining information, determining the whereabouts of a particular person or investigating crimes and various types of fraud. It can be rigorous work, but many find the job benefits well worth the time and effort that goes into a case.
Although some cases involve multiple investigators, most consist of an investigator working alone. This is particularly appealing to those who want to stay away from a strict work environment with supervisors watching their every move. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately 21 percent of private investigators are self-employed. Other investigators often find employment with law firms, corporations and other businesses.
Work performance results in righting wrongdoings of society, locating missing persons and providing security. Computer and other criminals can be revealed, individuals making fraudulent insurance claims can be discovered and background checks are given to verify the trust and validity of employees. Of course, all work must be done within the limits of the law, but the hard work of investigators provides a great service for individuals and businesses.
The very nature of sometimes having to go undercover and remain unnoticed is exciting. You never quite know where some cases may eventually take you—sleazy bars, executive boardrooms and anywhere in between. Putting together the pieces to solve a case is rewarding. For some, getting a thrill out of working with the unknown and possibly facing danger at any moment is a perk of the profession.
Extensive training, patience and intelligence are required, so many consider it a respectful position. Licensure is needed in most U.S. states, although requirements vary greatly, states the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Degrees in criminal justice or police science are favorable, but additional education is needed according to the specific field of detective work. Professionalism is also showcased by achieving certification from such organizations as the National Association of Legal Investigators and ASIS International.
Many enter the profession after working in another field in which their skills can be carried over and prove useful to investigative work. It is a natural job choice for former police officers, paralegals, insurance agents, military servicemen, federal intelligence personnel, lawyers, investigative reporters and others.
Despite strong competition, the availability of positions is expected to increase 22 percent from 2008 to 2018, states the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This rate of increase is much faster than average occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics attributes this increase to a heightened concern for security and protection by corporations and individuals; a growth of court cases and online criminal activity; and an increased interest for background checks.
Though salaries vary depending upon the field of work, employer and geographical location, the job provides financial stability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics records average annual salaries as $41,760 in May 2008, with the highest 10 percent earning above $76,640.
Private investigators have the advantage of staying up-to-date with advancements in technology. Some make use of technical gadgets to obtain information secretly. Others must stay current with new computer processes or Internet systems, such as the introduction of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.