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Careers in Private Investigation: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a private investigator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, training, job duties and other requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

Private investigators are hired to discover information for their clients. This could involve using surveillance, interviews or research to discover the information their clients seek. A license is required to work as a private investigator in most states.

Essential Information

Private investigators use surveillance, interviews and research techniques to uncover information for clients. These detectives work for a variety of individuals and organizations in a number of different industries, and may enter the career field through experience, education or a combination of both.

Career Private Detective and Investigator
Required Education and Experience High school diploma and law enforcement experience; bachelor's degree required for some positions
Other Requirements Licensure is required in most states
Projected Growth (2014-2024)* 5%
Median Salary (2015)* $45,610

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Options

Private investigators, also known as private detectives, uncover and analyze information for other people. The services offered vary from investigator to investigator, but employment may include physical protection, infidelity inquiries and background profiles for premarital verification or job applicant screening. Private investigators may be called on to aid in criminal investigation, child custody cases and fraudulent insurance claims. The nature of the job may change from day to day and with each new client.

Depending on a private investigator's skills and education, one could specialize in investigating corporate, computer forensic, legal, insurance or financial matters. A private investigator may work alone or as one of several investigators in an agency.

Education and Requirements

There are several entryways for this career field. Many states require private investigators to earn a state license, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that holding a bachelor's degree or previous law enforcement experience are common education or career pathways to becoming a private investigator. If a private investigator plans on specializing, the BLS reports that a subject-specific bachelor's degree may be the most appropriate educational path, along with typical professional certifications; for example, if someone's interested in forensic computing, a 4-year bachelor's degree in computer science or accounting may be the best choice, along with a Certified Public Accountant certification, as appropriate.

Alternatively, aspiring private investigators may earn a certificate of completion, a certificate or an associate degree as part of their preparation for state licensing, although some programs specifically do not prepare students for state licensing exams. Some programs may be available online.

Degree and certificate programs may offer coursework geared toward criminal, insurance and fraud investigations. Skills learned include building a case, interviewing clients, witnesses and others, maintaining files, conducting surveillance, practice or agency management, liability issues, hallmarks of particular types of cases and legal limits to investigative work. In some cases, an internship or other kind of student work experience may be required.

Private investigators may hold professional certification, often either the Professional Certified Investigator credential through ASIS International or the Certified Legal Investigator credential through the National Association of Legal Investigators, although other certifications may also be available.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected a 5% increase in jobs for private detectives and investigators from 2014-2024. Professionals with related work experience or computer skills might have the best job prospects, in addition to those willing to take entry-level positions with detective agencies, the BLS said. The BLS also reported a median annual salary of $45,610 for private detectives and investigators in May of 2015.

It is possible to begin a career as a private investigator with a high school diploma and state license; however, many private investigators have law enforcement training or a bachelor's degree. The job growth projected by the BLS from 2014-2024 is 5%, which is as fast as average when compared to all occupations.


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