Become a Background Investigator: Step-by-Step Career Guide

In this lesson, you'll learn about the steps involved in becoming a background investigator, including what kind of experience and license you'll need to conduct background checks.

Should I Become a Background Investigator?

A background investigator conducts research and scrutinizes information about specific individuals at the request of a client or employer. This role requires attention to detail, persistence, the ability to work independently, approachability and resourcefulness.

Career Requirements

Education Level No formal education required
Experience On-the-job training, including shadowing a professional investigator
Licensure and Certification Some states require government licensure and certain certifications are available for career advancement
Salary $44,570 per year (Median salary for all private detectives and investigators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Obtain Criminal Justice or Police Science Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, a background or private investigator does not need to meet formal education requirements; however, many such professionals have completed some college courses. A criminal justice or police science degree program includes courses in investigative techniques and research methods. Criminal justice undergraduate degree programs also include courses in criminology, criminal behavior, white-collar crime and data analysis.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Investigators learn the techniques and research methods to perform background investigations under the direction of an experienced professional. Work experience gives the new background investigator an opportunity to use research methods and investigative techniques. On-the-job training can include computer searches for public records and interviewing friends, family and acquaintances of a subject.

Step 3: Meet State Licensing Requirements

Many states require private investigators to obtain a license. Requirements vary, with some states requiring both work experience and education in criminal justice or police science. In addition, the state licensing board may require candidates to pass a background check conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state licensing department. The state may also administer an examination to ensure the private detective understands the state laws and regulations regarding issues such as privacy.

Step 4: Pursue Continuing Education and Certification

The BLS predicted 11% employment growth for these professionals from 2012-2022. Those willing to start out in entry-level positions in detective agencies, or those with computer skills or related experience, may have the most opportunities, according to the BLS.

Courses in investigation techniques can help students advance their career as a background investigator. Lessons in computer search techniques assist individuals conducting background investigations. ASIS offers the Professional Certified Investigator credential to individuals who demonstrate knowledge in investigation techniques and procedures, case management and presentation.

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