Want to Become a Private Investigator – Learn the Steps

Want to Become a Private Investigator

You must be considering becoming a private investigator, don’t you? Well, it is obvious since you are on this page and seriously marveling the thought. We are no private investigators!

But if you have based your opinion about this career by the books you have read and the movies you have watched, then let us assure you – it is not that simple and that stereotyped. Private investigators can be both female and male, and be of any age. And, there is no typical type or qualification requirement. However, it is not that you will be served with clues in order and in detail, and find evidence where you imagined it to be.

In order to be a brilliant private investigator, you must possess an enquiring mind, a great reflex, good observation skill, excellent eye for detail, great people skill, and of course, good training and experience. You must also know how to dissect information and get to the truth.

Today, we will share with you what you need to know about the career. Make sure you read everything and based on it determine your future.

What The Private Investigator Career Line Looks Like

The career line does not fit everyone. There is no 9 to 6 job, no 40 hours a week, and fixed payment, no incentives, and no project guideline. Your work can often be mundane and monotonous. However, more often you will satisfy your thirst by solving jigsaw puzzles and make your career worthwhile.

This is not an easy business to break into. Although there are very limited barriers to entry, the avenues of entry are lesser. You will be lucky if you get to work with an established agency. Private investigators support many businesses. The nature of the work of these professionals is vast and varied, so much so that it cannot be categorized or easily described. However, the industry is just growing by the years and can prove to be an excellent career option for many newbies. If you are prepared to work for long hours, sometimes during the wee hours of the night, then you must pursue this career.

You must possess a never-give-up attitude, should be unafraid of confrontations, and have an excellent interrogation skills, including effective communication. You must also learn how to document records and maintain them to accuracy for clients and for courts.

What Do Private Investigators Do

A large part of your assignments will come to you from the law firms, followed by insurance companies and corporates, and only a handful will come from the public. If you offer general practice, your client base will be broader than those who offer only specialized practice. In the case of the latter, you will be associated with just one sector, let’s say an insurance company, providing services to expose unrealistic claims or any other exaggerated incidents.

You should also remember that if you want to be successful, you mustn’t label yourself as a private detective or PI, but rather brand yourself as a professional investigator.

That being said, on the broader frame, you will conduct surveillance, check backgrounds of individuals, investigate crime scenes to collect evidence and clues, report findings to authorities, and at times, testify in court.

You may also be hired to uncover facts about legal, financial, and personal information about people, complete undercover work, verify candidates during pre-employment, guard profile of VIPs, and escort valuable assets from place to place.

In order to fulfill your goals, you will have to use the latest technology to extract data from the network, recover emails and search the database to retrieve crucial information about a person, living or dead.


Private investigators’ salaries vary according to their experience, specialty, the geographic area, and employer. In the year 2015, the average private investigator salary of PIs was estimated at $45, 610 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Steps To Become A Private Investigator

Before you begin the process, research what it takes to become a private investigator in your state. Look for the requirement, including the qualification level, experience, background checks, history, etc. Note that most employers will run a background check on you. So be sure you are clean.

Step 1: Study The Qualifying Degree

Although most states do not require completion of a 4-year bachelor’s degree, you must in today’s age and time to get better job opportunities. You can graduate with subjects like criminal law, police science, criminal justice, or study any relevant field, such as accountancy and finance to qualify as a professional investigator in allegations of fraud and embezzlement.

With a degree, you can actually look for other careers as well, including law and police science.

Step 2: Make Sure You Have The Qualities To Become A PI

There is nothing glamorous and filmy in becoming a PI. You will be performing surveillance, doing online research, and preparing documents and records. However, you must possess the following skills to be a brilliant candidate:

  • Great observation skills.
  • Excellent communication – written, spoken, and active listening. You must be eloquent in presenting ideas and thoughts. You must also be great at understanding body languages, facial expression, and gestures.
  • Quick reflexes and decision-making abilities.
  • Perseverant and great cognitive skills.
  • Basic to intermediate technology skills, such as researching online and using surveillance technology.
  • Problem solving and stress management skills.
  • Excellent eye for details.
  • Be physically and mentally strong to handle long working hours in different scenarios.

You may also have to be sneaky, stealthy, and discreet. Wherever you go, you must know to blend in. You must become one among them and that is the easiest way to reach the truth, pieces of evidence, gossips, and scandals.

You must learn to hide your intentions and practice to lie and be diplomatic as well.

Step 3: Enroll In Training Program

It is highly recommended to get into a training program because how much ever you learn from a degree course, it will not teach you the practical side of surveillance, database access, and interrogation. Hands-on training in the investigation is the most important part of becoming one. Most training programs are affordable and should not take much of your days. However, you must consider the following before you choose one:

  • Make sure the training program is accredited by a national accrediting organization.
  • If not the above, then ensure a professional team of investigators runs it.
  • Or, you can gain experience by shadowing an investigator working in a private investigating organization. You may need to convince them to hire you and have to also pass an interview to be selected.

Step 4: Gain Entry-Level Experience

Join a detective agency that is open to hiring entry-level staffs. This phase will be all about learning the job in real life while getting to earn a meager wage.  It will be similar to internship programs that students sign up for in the final year of graduation. You will get on-the-job training by assisting the recruits of the agency until you qualify to obtain a license. If you do not wish to join a detective agency, you can choose other routes to gain the required experience, such as law enforcement, military police, claims department, etc.

Step 5: Apply For Your License

Check if licensure is required in your area. If yes, apply for the examination as soon as you finish your entry-level training. Your licensure will allow you to work as a professional private investigator who has the authority to access protected databases and perform surveillance and interrogation. However, if you wish to, you can carry your job in the same detective agency from where you received your entry-level training. On the other hand, you can try applying for jobs in various places, including law firms, government agencies, CBI, FBI, and corporations.

To get a license you must have a few years of experience in one of the following careers: debt collection, insurance claim adjustment, journalism (investigation), and work related to law and regulations. Sometimes you have to go through a short training program before you take up the licensure examination.

You have to make a switch into private investigation career as early as possible. You will face tough competition in this field, especially from the police and military retirees.

Step 6: Prepare Yourself For The Career

The best places where to establish your career as a private investigator are the military and police. Over 50% of the private investigators are either former military officers or former police officers. Therefore, you must try to become one of them or work for them, or work in similar routes, including debt collection, insurance claim adjustment, journalism, and law and regulations.

You will entirely be relying on your clients for your income, like all PIs. Moreover, a fixed monthly income is not something you should be expecting from this profession. As and when you receive cases, you will be paid. Therefore, you must plan your budget accordingly and save for the dry months. The stress level of this job is higher than in most professions. It may also affect your personal and domestic life. For instance, at times you may have to work 24 hours or be present at your station at the drop of a hat. As you investigate, conduct surveillance, and interrogate, you will leave behind many evening dinners and play time with your kids.

You have to keep your agendas, your meetings, and your plans secret from your family members. Oftentimes, you have to take the risk of placing yourself in a dangerous situation. All these could be stressful emotionally. Hence, you must be prepared for the career and make your family aware of what they should be expecting from your life. 

Step 7: Identify Your Niche

Although you can investigate anything between identity theft and firebombing, you should focus on specializing in one or two areas instead of focusing on all. Specializing will give you more opportunities, especially full time. It will also make you a niche expert, a particular credential that attracts clients.

Some of the common specialties you can focus on or specialize in include:

  • Law: Need basic background in law to assist in trial work, procure data and evidence, and present them to juries.
  • Surveillance: Your job will entail worker’s compensation, missing person, abusive spouse, an unfaithful spouse, vandalism, threats, etc.
  • Accounting: With an education in accounting, you can work with corporates on investigating frauds, embezzlement, asset recovery, and other related issues.
  • Computer forensic: A little bit of computer skill can make you an ideal candidate for computer forensic investigation, such as analyzing data, recovering data, and email, and dissecting digital data.

Although you can become a self-employed PI, it is not recommended at the beginning of your career. Starting a business only after you have secured a few years of experience working under expert is an ideal option.

Step 8: Research The Legalities, Laws, And Regulations

You will most often hover over the line between what is legal and what is not. As a PI, you will be using tactics to learn what you want to. And, with a license, you will have access to a lot of things. However, you must adhere to law and practice what is ethical and correct, even after having much freedom. Therefore, you need to familiarize with the rules and regulations, including pretexting, wiretapping, surveilling, breaking and entering properties, and information on arrest laws.

Pretexting is illegal and generally viewed as unethical. It is the act of personifying someone else to obtain critical information. It is considered a crime if PIs pretend to be government officials, or use different identity to obtain bank records.

Except for surveillance, rest all is illegal and prohibited by the law. However, the regulations of citizen arrest law vary in each state.

Step 9: Earn More Certifications

You can prove your mettle in various branches of the investigation by earning additional certifications. In fact, there are 15 other professional private investigator certification available. Typically, each certification will require two years of education and passing a test. You must continue training and keep your certifications up-to-date to attract more clients.

National Association of Fraud Examiners, ASIS International, and National Association of Legal Investigators are few organizations that offer professional certification courses in the US.

If you have any doubts regarding this career, please free to ask in the comments below.