How to Become a Private Detective or Investigator
Although most learn on the job, many private detectives and investigators have a law enforcement background.
Private detectives and investigators typically need several years of work experience and a high school diploma. In addition, the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license.
Education requirements vary greatly with the job, but most jobs require a high school diploma. Some, though, may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a field such as criminal justice.
Most private detectives and investigators learn through on-the-job training, typically lasting between several months and a year.
Although new investigators must learn how to gather information, additional training depends on the type of firm that hires them. For example, investigators may learn to conduct remote surveillance, reconstruct accident scenes, or investigate insurance fraud. Corporate investigators hired by large companies may receive formal training in business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Private detectives and investigators must typically have previous work experience, usually in law enforcement, the military, or federal intelligence. Those in such jobs, who are frequently able to retire after 20 or 25 years of service, may become private detectives or investigators in a second career.
Other private detectives and investigators may have previously worked as bill and account collectors, claims adjusters, paralegals, or process servers.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most states require private detectives and investigators to have a license. Check with your state for more information; Professional Investigator Magazine has links to most states’ licensing requirements. Because laws often change, jobseekers should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with the state and locality in which they want to work.
Candidates may also obtain certification, although it is not required for employment. Still, becoming certified through professional organizations can demonstrate competence and may help candidates advance in their careers.
For investigators who specialize in negligence or criminal defense investigation, the National Association of Legal Investigators offers the Certified Legal Investigator certification. For other investigators, ASIS International offers the Professional Certified Investigator certification.
Communication skills. Private detectives and investigators must listen carefully and ask appropriate questions when interviewing a person of interest.
Decisionmaking skills. Private detectives and investigators must be able to think on their feet and make quick decisions, based on the limited information that they have at a given time.
Inquisitiveness. Private detectives and investigators must want to ask questions and search for the truth.
Patience. Private detectives and investigators may have to spend long periods conducting surveillance while waiting for an event to occur. Investigations may take a long time, and they may not provide a resolution quickly—or at all.
Resourcefulness. Private detectives and investigators must work persistently with whatever leads they have, no matter how limited, to determine the next step toward their goal. They sometimes need to anticipate what a person of interest will do next.