Job description: Private detectives and investigators may offer services such as executive, celebrity or corporate protection, pre-employment investigations and background checks. They gather facts for their clients by working undercover, conducting computer research and through personal interviews. Their work may be connected with criminal or civil cases, insurance claims, and child custody or missing person cases.
Daily work duties can include making telephone calls, analyzing emails, conducting Internet research and observing subjects. Private detectives and investigators are usually trained to perform surveillance using photographic and video cameras, binoculars and GPS systems. Fact-checking may require direct interviews with a subject’s acquaintances and co-workers.
Depending on client needs, investigations performed by private detectives and investigators may be short- or long-term. Carefully documenting activities and collecting evidence are important aspects of this occupation. Private detectives and investigators must be aware of and follow local, state and federal laws while performing their job duties.
Private Detectives and Investigators Job Summary
- Many private detectives and investigators are self-employed.
- This occupation can be dangerous and work hours are often irregular.
- Entering this field often requires some college education and investigative work experience.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that competition is expected to be strong for most jobs in this field.
Work Environment for Private Detectives and Investigators
While much of their work is performed at a desk with a computer, private detectives and investigators spend a great deal of time away from their offices. Conducting surveillance means following a subject wherever they may go – including luxury hotels, shopping malls and seedy nightclubs. Private detectives and investigators typically work alone, and the job can be physically demanding, stressful and dangerous. Some positions may require the investigator to be armed with a weapon. Those who are self-employed can have the added stress of dealing with demanding clients. Irregular hours, including nights, weekends and holidays, are typical for this occupation.
Education, Training and Licensing
While there are no formal education standards, most private detectives and investigators have college educations, and the majority of states require them to be licensed. Corporate investigators usually need to hold a bachelor’s degree in business; some have law degrees or are CPAs. Taking courses in criminal justice or police science can be helpful to individuals seeking to become private detectives and investigators. Community colleges and universities offer associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with experience in police investigation.
On-the-job training is a method used by many private detectives and investigators to learn their jobs. An entry-level position with an insurance company or domestic investigative service firm can be a good starting point for learning to recognize fraud and gain surveillance skills.
While most states require private detectives and investigators to be licensed, the requirements vary by location. Seven states have no licensing requirements, while others have strict regulations concerning private detectives and investigators. It is important to research the requirements in the state and locality where work is performed.
Some private detectives and investigators seek certification in specialized areas, such as the Certified Legal Investigator designation or the Professional Certified Investigator certification. Qualifications are established by the certifying organizations, and usually include minimum education requirements, several years of experience and passing an examination.
Candidates for private detectives and investigator jobs must be assertive, with the ability to handle confrontation and make quick decisions. Good communication, interviewing and interrogation skills are important, as is the physical and psychological ability to handle law enforcement-related work. Applicants are usually subjected to background checks.
Job Projections, Career Outlook and Earnings Potential
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) records for May 2009 show that private detectives and investigators held approximately 31,250 jobs, mostly with private detective agencies. A smaller number are self-employed or hold jobs with local governments, legal services firms and retail establishments.
Employment in this field is predicted to grow much faster than the average for all occupations, but competition is expected for most jobs. Increased security concerns in the public and private sector will boost demand for private detectives and investigators.
According to the BLS, private detectives and investigators earned a median yearly salary of $42,110 in May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $32,140 and $57,910, while the lowest 10% had a yearly income of $24,700 or less. The highest 10% earned upwards of $75,970 annually.