Certified Private Investigator: Education Requirements and Career Info

Sep 22, 2019

A private detective conducts investigations for their clients. A detective must obtain state certification to open a private practice, which requires prior job experience and passing an exam.

Essential Information

Private detectives perform investigative work for individuals, businesses and other clients. They are often employed to verify facts and, sometimes, suspicions on the part of their clients according to federal and state law. Many states require private detectives to have a license, but formal education is not required for this job.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Licensure and Certification License required in most states; optional certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 8%
Average Annual Salary (2018)* $50,090

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Certified Private Investigator Education Requirements

While there are no official formal education requirements for working as a private investigator, many in the industry have degrees in fields which assist their modern investigation skills. For instance, much of today's investigation work is done through computers. In order for a private investigator to have an understanding of computer forensics, a background in computer information systems can be beneficial.

Private investigators' specialties depend on their training and degree field. Some specialties may include computer forensic investigators, legal investigators, financial investigators and corporate investigators.

Many private investigators developed their skills during former careers as police officers. If this is the case, a private investigator must have completed the necessary education to work as a police officer, which often includes a high school degree and at least two years of college.


Many states require licenses for private investigators. These licenses often require job experience, a background check and a two-hour written examination pertaining to private investigation.

Private investigators may become certified by a number of entities. For instance, the National Association of Legal Investigators may certify private investigators after five years of experience and the passing of written and oral examinations. ASIS International also certifies private investigators who have five years' experience, which includes two years of managing investigations, and the passing of an exam.

Career Info

Private investigators help their clients determine facts in a case. They use similar methods that a police officer may use, such as searching and undercover surveillance of a subject. They often make phone calls, conduct background checks and photograph a subject covertly.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, as of May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $89,200 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $29,310 or less per year. Employment of these investigators is expected to grow faster than average between the years of 2018 and 2028, per the BLS.

While professional education isn't always required to be a private detective, coursework in forensic-related fields can be useful, and some learn investigative skills through law enforcement work. All private investigators must possess a license in most states. Optional certification is also available through several professional entities.

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