Do you think of yourself as a modern version of Sherlock Holmes? Or maybe Columbo? What about the witty Veronica Mars? If so, a career as a private investigator might just fit you like a glove. If you’re resourceful, know how to ask the most relevant questions, and possess the patience necessary to always uncover the truth, you’re in the right place. We’ve gathered some useful information about what working as a private detective entails and how to become one. Read on.
What duties come with the job?
Private investigators offer a plethora of services from verifying people’s backgrounds to finding missing persons or investigating computer crimes.Detectives come in many shapes, each with various duties. Here are some examples:
- Legal investigators – they help prepare criminal defenses, locate witnesses, verify facts, and serve legal documents; they typically work close to lawyers or law firms
- Computer forensic investigators – they specialize in recovering and analyzing computer data
- Corporate investigators–they usually conduct investigations for corporations, either internal (e.g. investigating drug use in the workplace) or external (e.g. investigating fraudulent billing by a supplier)
- Financial investigators–they specialize in collecting financial information on individuals and corporations; they typically work close to an investment banker or other type of accountant.
As you can see, there are many different categories of detectives out there. However, the duties that come with the job are usually similar. As a private detective, you will have to interview people to gather information, search records and evidence to uncover clues, conduct surveillance and collect evidence to present in court. You may also be expected to verify employment, income, and other facts about a person (what’s called a background check) and/or investigate computer crimes and information theft.
Private investigators offer various services for attorneys, businesses, and, of course, individuals. Your cases can vary from proving infidelity to uncovering evidence that shows someone was stealing money from a company. You can also specialize on a particular niche – financial crimes, computer crimes, and so on. Depending on the assignment, you may be required to go undercover to observe suspects and obtain crucial information.
To perform their daily duties, private detectives use a variety of tools. You need great computer skills, as much of your work will be done with a computer – obtaining information about persons of interest, verifying activity on social networks, checking an individual’s prior arrests. You should also expect to spend a lot of hours conducting surveillance – you may have to watch locations or follow individuals around. Photo and video cameras, binoculars, GPS tracking are also commonly used by investigators to gather evidence and data on persons of interest.
As far as the work hours are concerned, they’re irregular. Private detectives conduct surveillance and contact people usually outside normal work hours, so a fixed schedule isn’t a given. Long hours also come with the job. Plus, you should prepare to work outdoors or from your vehicle, as investigations may easily take you away from the office.
To sum up, it’s unlikely you will ever go through a boring day at the office. However, keep in mind that private investigators lack police power, so you need to have a good understanding of laws – otherwise, the evidence you gather may not be usable in court.
What skills do you need?
This job is in no way suitable for anyone. While most of the knowledge required to excel in the field comes from on-the-job experience, you still need a set of key skills before deciding to pursue a career as an investigator. First off, great communication skills are a must – you have to listen carefully and ask the right questions when interviewing someone. Interpersonal skills will also come in handy, as getting a person of interest to trust you can make the difference between cracking the case and failing to deliver. Decision-making skills are necessary as well, since detectives must be able to think on their feet and make quick decisions, often based on little to no prior information.
Moreover, you must possess inquisitiveness and persevere in asking questions in your search for the truth.Patience may be a virtue, but it’s also a necessary one in the field, as you can be asked to spend long windows of time on surveillance. Plus, some investigations can take a long time, so you must be mentally ready to accept the fact that you may not be able to provide a quick resolution for all cases. Being resourceful buys you bonus points–investigators need to work persistently with whatever information they have to figure out what the next step should be.
What’s the pay like?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $45,740 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Based on the same source, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,670, and the top 10 percent earned more than $79,790. The top-paying four industries in which these law enforcement agents worked were finance and insurance, legal services, government, and investigation, guard, and armored car services.
As far as job outlook goes, employment of private investigators is projected to grow 11 percent by 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.Keep in mind that technological advances have led to an increase in cyber crime, so specializing in his area might be a wise step.
How to become one?
Education requirements vary depending on the job. Generally speaking, a high school diploma is usually enough. Nonetheless, some jobs may require a degree. For instance, corporate investigators need a bachelor degree, as well as financial investigators and computer forensics investigators. Furthermore, continuing education is extremely important in this field, as you need to stay on top of changing technologies.
That being said, on-the-job experience and an established reputation are the most important things a potential client or employer will look for.This can be particularly difficult for newbies, but great for people who already have some previous experience working in law enforcement or the military. If you’re just starting up, it’s best to seek employment with a firm willing to provide training. Later on, once you have a few years of experience under your belt, you may consider the idea of opening your own practice.
As an additional note, most US states require private detectives and investigators to have a license. If you plan on carrying a handgun, you will likely have to meet additional requirements as well. Here’s a sample private detective resume to get you inspired.
Skilled detective with experience in conducting investigations and preparing evidence for court. Superior organizational and surveillance skills. Currently seeking a position as an investigator for a private company.
- Strong computer and Internet skills
- Ability to sit/stand for extended periods of time
- Experience with interviewing people
- Willingness to travel at short notice
- Huge surveillance experience
- Experienced photographer
- New York State Licensed Private investigator
Organization Name, City, State, 2012-present
- Performed field investigations
- Conducted in-person interviews and background checks
- Logged hundreds of hours of surveillance using binoculars and cameras
- Created reports of investigations for clients
- Reported criminal information to police and testified in court
Organization Name, City, State, 2007-2012
- Patrolled assigned areas
- Enforced parking laws
- Made arrests and issued citations
- Directed traffic
- Attended training sessions
- High school diploma, High School, graduated 2003
- BA in Public Criminology, University, graduated 2007
- New York State Police Training Academy Recruit School (2007)
Available upon request.
If you’re a gutsy individual who isn’t afraid to go to great lengths to uncover the truth, a career as an investigator may be the right fit for you. Playing Criminal Case is not enough though, so start furthering the skills required for the job from early on. If you’re persistent enough, you will have your own practice in no time.