How to Become a Private Detective: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

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

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.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Postsecondary education preferred; high school diploma may be acceptable
Degree Field Police science, criminal justice, or a related field
Experience Experience in law or business administration preferred
Median Salary (2018) $50,090 (for private detectives and investigators)

Sources: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Let's now take a look at the steps involved in becoming a private detective.

Step 1: Acquire Formal Education

Step 1 consists of acquiring 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.

Step 2: Obtain Job Training

Step 2 involves obtaining 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 gained depends on the employer. For example, insurance companies train private investigators to look for fraud attempts, and surveillance firms teach methods for trailing targets or watching areas. The constant invention of new investigative technology prevents private detective training from ever truly stopping.

Step 3: Attain State Licensure

Step 3 consists of attaining state licensure. 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.

Step 4: Explore Certification Options

Step 4 involves exploring certification options. Certifications 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.

In summary, the four steps to becoming a private detective include acquiring a formal education, obtaining job training, attaining state licensure, and exploring certification options.

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