How to Become a Private Investigator

If you are an observational person with an eye for detail and a knack for research you might like to become a private investigator.

A private investigator (also known as a PI) researches a person, company, or sometimes an event on behalf of a client.

They use a wide range of resources to find information, such as database searches, records, and sometimes surveillance.

When you become a private investigator, your role goes far beyond catching out a cheating spouse.

Private investigators are hired by companies, lawyers, and even government departments to find out the truth about something.

Often the evidence found is used in courts of law, or as justification for certain actions in a company.

Education Requirements to Become a Private Investigator

The one thing that private investigators have in common is that they have a lot of life experience.

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Many have college degrees or an impressive professional background.

This is not to say that if you don’t have this kind of experience that you can’t become a private investigator, just that you might need to take some extra measures to do so.

If you would like to become a private investigator, you should be aware that much of your competition comes from an experienced background.

They have worked in law enforcement, criminal justice, or the military for sometime before switching over to a career as a private investigator.

If you are in high school and considering becoming a PI, you might want to complete a college degree.

A four year bachelors degree in law enforcement or criminal justice would give you an excellent background.

Another option is to work in law enforcement or security for a few years to gain some experience this way.

If you come from a different career path, you might like to enroll in a private investigator course.

This will give you the background knowledge you need in how private investigation works.

This is where you will learn how to complete a background check, run credit reports, complete surveillance, as well as gain other research skills.

The requirements to become a private investigator can vary.

In some states you will be required to be licensed to work as a private investigator involving a state exam.

In some states you must have a college degree to become a private investigator, while there are additional requirements for investigators who carry guns.

Private Investigator Job Description

A private investigator works to uncover information.

They are employed by companies, attorneys, and individuals.

Their job could be performing surveillance on a spouse, investigating a company for fraud, or analyzing a computer for records.

A lot of a private investigators work is done via a computer.

A private investigator uses a wide range of detection methods to gain information.

They may use surveillance to find out more on an individual, use background and credit checks while also seeking out criminal records.

A private investigator must always follow the law.

The information they collect must be done in the right way, especially if it is to be used in court.

Many private investigators work within a specific niche:

Computer forensic investigators – analyze computer records, retrieve deleted documents, and analyze findings

Legal investigators – help to form a legal case for or against someone, they may locate a missing witness, research a case, or analyze police reports

Corporate investigators – detect misconduct in the workplace.

For instance, false worker’s compensation claims, theft, fraud and embezzlement.

Private Investigator Salary and Career Path

It’s likely that when you first become a private investigator you will work under the guidance of someone more experienced since this is a good way to learn the business.

Those who have previous experience in law enforcement however, may not need this additional guidance.

Many private investigators are employed by companies while about 20% are self-employed.

Expect to work out of business hours, particularly if you are completing surveillance work.

Legal detective work comes with strict deadlines which may require you to work overtime.

The median salary of a private investigator is $41,000 a year.

The middle 50% earn between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.

Some similar roles to private investigator that you might be interested in include:

  • Police detective
  • Debt collector
  • Police officer
  • Security guard
  • Forensic accountant

If you are great at research and think you would enjoy detective work, then you might like to become a private investigator.

While entry is competitive, this role can be very stimulating and exciting.

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