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Private Investigator Career Guide

A career as a private investigator is an exhilarating and thrilling career that is predicted to grow over the coming years. To become a private investigator, you will need a high school diploma and experience in a related field. However, some jobs may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a related field. Private investigators receive on the job training to gain the skills they need.

There are awesome and gratifying experiences as a private investigator, but I believe in preparing for the worst parts and enjoying the good moments as they come.

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Private Investigator Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Private Investigator Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Private Investigator field.
IDJob TitleGenderAgeEarningsCity & StateDate
32722Private DetectiveFemale51 $15,000Pensacola, FL01/01/2010

Overview

What a private investigator actually does

Private investigators, also known as private detectives, work for organizations, members of the public and solicitors to solve sensitive and difficult problems. They do this by discretely gathering evidence and information. Private investigators can also search for missing people and look for potential criminal activity. Regardless of who hires them, the typical duties and responsibilities of a private investigator include:

  • Surveillance and monitoring of people
  • Investigating fraudulent activity (for example, for insurance or accident claims)
  • Tracing missing people or pets
  • Handing legal documents to people (process serving)
  • Investigating commercial piracy (such as copying software illegally)
  • Conducting background checks on employees

Why they are needed

Private investigators are needed because they have the unique skills to help with an array of criminal activity. For example, they have the special skills to help a business, or an individual, deal with fraud. They are also aid the search for a missing person or missing pet, playing a fundamental role in their discovery. Furthermore, they can also help companies conduct background checks on a person, or another company, to prevent error or loss of money.

Pros and cons of a career as a private investigator:

Pros:

  • A career as a private investigator is fast-paced, thrilling and engaging
  • Being a private investigator is a rewarding career, as you play a fundamental role in helping both businesses and individuals
  • Private investigators are in high demand, meaning that there is a lot of career opportunities and job security
  • There are no specific educational requirements to become a private investigator, making it an accessible career to many

Cons:

  • Private investigators may work with difficult clients, making it a challenging career
  • Private investigators tend work long and unsociable hours (e.g., weekends, evenings and holiday periods)
  • Being a private investigator can be very dangerous, as private investigators can often find themselves in unpredictable and unexpected environments
  • Some of the work a private investigator does can be mundane, boring and time consuming

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of private investigators and detectives is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

The demand for continued lawsuits and the increasing desire for investigation into freud, interpersonal mistrust and other crimes will continue to create a demand for private detectives and investigators. Furthermore, background checks will continue to be a source of work for some investigators, as online investigations are not always sufficient. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 3,000 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Career paths

The education requirements to become a private investigator vary greatly dependent on the job. Most jobs require a high school diploma and then private investigators will learn through on-the-job training, which can last between several months and a year. However, some jobs may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a related field, such as criminal justice.

Private investigators must typically have previous work experience in a related field, such as 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 related fields include claims adjusters, paralegals or process servers.

After a private investigator receives their initial training, they may receive additional training, dependent on the type of firm that hires them. For example, investigators may learn to conduct remote surveillance, reconstruct accident scenes, or investigate insurance fraud. Whereas corporate investigators, hired by large companies, may receive formal training in business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics.

In nearly all states, private investigators must have a license. The Professional Investigator Magazine has more information as to each states’ licensing requirements. Laws often change and therefore aspiring private investigators should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with the state and locality in which they want to work.

On top of obtaining a license, private investigators may want to consider obtaining certification. This is not required for employment, but it does demonstrate competence and may help you to advance in your careers. For investigators who want to 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.

Overall, there is strong competition for private  investigator jobs as it is a career that attracts many highly qualified people, including relatively young retirees from law enforcement and the military. Those with a bachelor’s degree, related work experience, as well as those with strong interviewing skills and familiarity with computers, may find more job opportunities than others.

Example Job Titles for Private Investigator

Below is a list of common job titles in the Private Investigator field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $50,510 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,760. The top paying industries were finance and insurance (where the average annual salary is $60,300), the government ($60,120) and investigation, guard and armored car services ($45,53).

Autonomy and Flexibility

As a private investigator is a senior role, they tend to have a lot of control over their work and the decisions they make. Therefore, the autonomy is high. Private investigators tend to work unsociable hours in order to contact people outside of their normal working hours. This does not provide much flexibility in the role.

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states to be a private investigator, based on salary and cost of living were:

  1. Illinois, where the average annual salary was $92,360
  2. Michigan, where the average annual salary was $86,430
  3. Virginia, where the average annual salary was $94,210
  4. Delaware, where the average annual salary was $93,250
  5. West Virginia, where the average annual salary was $81,540

The worst states, based on average annual salary and cost of living were Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maine and Hawaii.

Work environment

Private investigators can work alone or they can work in a team of other legal professionals. They may spend time in offices, where they are making calls and researching cases. Or, they may spend time in the field, where they will be conducting interviews or performing surveillance. Private investigators may have to work outdoors or from a vehicle in all kinds of weather conditions.

The largest employers of private investigators were investigation, guard and armored car services which hired 39% of private investigators in the United States. Finance and insurance hired 10% of private investigators, the government hired 8% and 3% of private investigators in the United States are self-employed.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Private Investigator careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Private Investigator career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Private Investigator.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

The exact personality types and/or traits of a private investigator are yet to be explored. However, it can be assumed that private investigators will score high on emotional stability, as they will be faced with many stressful situations in which they must remain calm. They should also be conscientious and will likely be open to experience.

Accomplishment and mastery

As private investigators must have prior work experience in a related field, the specific training to become a private investigator is not particularly extensive. Based on this, private investigators can quickly accomplish a lot of new skills, meaning accomplishment and mastery are high for this profession. What is more, is that once on the job, private investigators help business and individuals solve offences, giving it a high sense of mastery and accomplishment.

Meaning and contribution

The meaning and contribution of being a private investigator is high. This is because they have unique skills which helps business and individuals to solve and prevent crimes against them, such as fraud.

Life fit

Generally, private investigators work irregular hours because they will conduct surveillance and contact people outside of their normal working hours. This often means working evenings, weekends and during holiday periods. Based on this, it can be a hard career to get the best life fit from.

Who will thrive in this career?

To thrive as a private investigator, you will need to have the physical stamina to keep up with the demands of the job. You will also need to be willing to commit to the erratic schedule of a private investigator, such as working evenings and weekends. On top of this, you will thrive as a private investigator if you can think rationally and analytically to solve all kinds of problems, from fraud to background checks.

Who will struggle in this career?

Those who prefer to work a typical 9 to 5 might struggle with the unsociable  and unpredictable hours of being a private investigator. Similarly, those who prefer to work in one place, opposed to working partly in the field, partly in a car and partly in an office, will struggle working as a private investigator. Finally, those who don’t pay attention to detail might struggle being a private investigator, as they will miss major cues that could solve problems.

Requirements

Skills and talents

  • Excellent customer service skills in order to maintain effective professional relationships with clients
  • Communication skills, as private investigators must produce and maintain written documents and keep in contact with clients
  • Decision making skills, as private investigators must be able to make quick decisions, sometimes in dangerous situations, based on the limited information
  • Listening skills, as private investigators must listen carefully and ask appropriate questions when interviewing a person of interest
  • Analytical thinking skills, as the main job of a private investigator is to solve problems and collect data
  • Attention to detail, as private investigators will have to solve many problems which have the smallest clues
  • Ability to remain calm in stressful situations, as private investigators will have to work in unpredictable environments

Education

The education requirements to become a private investigator vary greatly dependent on the job. Most jobs require a high school diploma and then private investigators will learn through on-the-job training, which can last between several months and a year. However, some jobs may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a related field, such as criminal justice.

To be successful in getting hired as a private investigator, you will typically need previous work experience in a related field, such as law enforcement, the military or federal intelligence. Often, you will have worked in this job for many years and will become a private investigator as a second career. Other related fields include claims adjusters, paralegals or process servers.

Certifications

In nearly all states, private investigators must have a license. The Professional Investigator Magazine has more information as to each states’ licensing requirements. Laws often change and therefore aspiring private investigators should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with the state and locality in which they want to work.

On top of obtaining a license, private investigators may want to consider obtaining certification. This is not required for employment, but it does demonstrate competence and may help you to advance in your careers. For investigators who want to 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.

How to Become

Summary

A career as a private investigator is an exhilarating career that is predicted to grow over the coming years.

Immediate action

If you want to become a private investigator, you should consider a career in a related field to gain some work experience.

Education and learning

The education requirements to become a private investigator vary greatly dependent on the job. Most jobs require a high school diploma and then private investigators will learn through on-the-job training, which can last between several months and a year. However, some jobs may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a related field, such as criminal justice. You will typically need previous work experience in a related field, such as law enforcement, the military or federal intelligence.

Skill development

After a private investigators initial training, 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. Whereas corporate investigators, hired by large companies, may receive formal training in business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Private Investigator careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

IDJob TitleGenderAgeEarningsCity & StateDate
32722Private DetectiveFemale51 $15,000Pensacola, FL01/01/2010

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