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How to Become a Private Detective: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a private detective through this video. Learn about the job description, and see the step-by-step process to start a career in detective work.

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Should I Become a Private Detective?

Private detectives gather information, conduct surveillance and investigate abnormalities. They can be self-employed or work on behalf of law enforcement agencies, corporations and investigation firms. These investigators take on a variety of cases, ranging from discovering secrets to recovering objects. By analyzing information and clues, private detectives assist customers in legal, financial or private matters. Although weapons are not usually involved, confrontations with others might occur.

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Career Requirements

Education Required High school diploma; postsecondary education recommended
Licensure/Certification Most states require licensure; voluntary certification is available
Experience Law enforcement or investigative work
Key Skills Communication, problem-solving, resourcefulness
Salary (2014) $44,570 per year (Median)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Acquire a Formal Education

While a formal education requirement is not in place for private detectives and a high school diploma may be enough to earn an entry-level position, it is highly recommended that aspiring investigators acquire some form of postsecondary education. Private detectives may find degrees and coursework related to police science or criminal justice extremely useful. Investigators employed by corporations usually need to have experience in law or business administration and preferably a bachelor's degree.

Success Tip:

  • Consider computer courses. Private detectives involved with computer forensics may find an accounting or computer science degree to be more helpful. Some colleges offer computer forensics certificate programs, which train students in the latest computer investigation technology.

Step 2: Obtain Job Training

Private detectives gain the most education while on the job. Firms ensure that their private detectives are properly trained, so training programs are typically required for new employees. The type of experience they get depends on their employer. For example, insurance companies train private investigators to look for fraud attempts, and surveillance firms teach methods for trailing targets or watching areas. New technology prevents private detective training from ever truly stopping, because the continuing education opportunities are plentiful.

Step 3: Attain State Licensure

According to the BLS, most states require private detectives to be licensed. General requirements to expect include possessing a combination of experience and education, completing examinations and passing background checks. Private detectives who plan on holding firearms must meet additional requirements.

Success Tip:

  • Do your research. Exact regulations and requirements can vary greatly in each state, so aspiring private detectives should contact state boards to learn the necessary requirements.

Step 4: Explore Certification Options

Certifications for private detectives can prove an additional level of skill and professionalism to employers and clients, and they guarantee competence in specific areas. The National Association of Legal Investigators offers a specialty designation called the Certified Legal Investigator. Licensed professionals with five years of experience in criminal defense investigations and negligence cases qualify for this designation. Additionally, ASIS International offers the Professional Certified Investigator designation, which ensures that certified individuals are knowledgeable in case management, investigative techniques and case presentation.

Step 5: Continue Advancing in Your Career

Earning postsecondary degrees which relate to the sorts of investigative work you want to do will help to qualify you for more roles in your preferred field. Private detectives sometimes leverage their experience as resourceful and diligent fact-finders towards work in auditing, accounting and collections work, and even sophisticated legal tasks. Building a portfolio of successful work experience and satisfied former clients can also help you to excel and advance in this line of work.

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