Did you know that the demand and employment for private investigators are expected to grow 8% by 2029? The demand for PIs is growing, and the market is booming.
What better time to become a private investigator than now? A private investigator job is exciting, versatile, and it pays well. But what are the correct steps to turn a sleuthing hobby into a full-time career?
Keep reading for a comprehensive guide on how to become a private investigator and get started building your dream career today.
Private Investigator Salary
Perhaps before you dive into making a career out of being a regular sleuth, you’d like to know how much money you’ll earn for your investigative work.
You’re in luck, choosing a private investigator career is not only an interesting job that will keep you on your toes, but it pays well too. Private investigators are more in demand now than ever (have people become less trustworthy or less trusting?).
Skilled and trained investigative professionals are in demand and in short supply and a private investigator’s salary reflects that.
You can expect an average salary of around $48,000 a year — nothing average about that, is there? But if you’re a real Sherlock Holmes and you build a strong reputation and a lying, cheating customer base that always needs your services, you can earn in the 100k per year bracket.
The more training, experience, references, and certifications that you have, the more you can charge.
The Nitty Gritty of Private Investigator Jobs
So, how does one become a private investigator? There are not exactly a ton of job adverts floating around the internet and your local newspaper. Firstly, you need to understand that many (around 25%) private investigators are self-employed, and this is probably the best way to earn the big bucks.
The other 75% or so work in private investigators work in private industries. So you may find work at a security firm, identify protection services, law firms, or financial institutions. Of course, you may also be hired to work for just one powerful and wealthy individual.
Your duties will very much depend on who you’re working for and the case you’re working on. On a broad scale, your responsibilities will include writing reports, investigations, surveillance, computer and field research, and other field operations.
You could be working in a law firm to gather evidence for an innocent person’s trial. Perhaps you’ll find a job in an institution that requires that you do background checks on their employees.
The Best Steps for Becoming a Private Investigator
There are no specific steps that are required for you to become a private investigator except for obtaining the license (discussed below). It is largely an apprenticeship-based job that is based on on-the-job experience and assisting seasoned professionals in order to learn.
If you earn an apprenticeship with an investigative firm, such as Flatirons Private Investigations, they will likely provide important training. This may include surveillance techniques, accident scene reconstruction methods, and strategies for collecting information and evidence.
If you secure an apprenticeship working within a corporate environment, the training will differ slightly. It will likely include understanding business practices and fraud, computer forensics, and more.
If you wanted to follow the ‘perfect’ steps to becoming a private investigator, it would look something like this:
- Complete high school diploma
- Pursue a degree in criminal justice or a related field
- Work experience in military or police force
- Obtain licensure according to your state guidelines
This would be the ideal journey towards becoming a private investigator, but it is not the necessary journey. The required steps are work experience and a license.
Private Investigator License and Certification
The only and most important requirement for private investigators across the United States is a private investigator license. However, this is not as simple as simply applying for a PI license and then hitting the streets on surveillance missions the very next day.
To obtain a license you need to have a minimum amount of work experience. This ranges from state to state. For example, in Florida, you need to have at least two years of experience. In California, you need three years of work experience.
This work experience can be in law enforcement, criminal justice, investigations, asset management, or related fields. Keep in mind that a college degree in a Criminal Justice field counts as one year of work experience.
To obtain a PI license, you must be 18 years old or older, you need a clean criminal record and you need to pass the Private Investigator exam.
Important Traits and Skills of Excellent Private Investigators
Beyond the work experience and the license, there are some essential personality traits and soft skills that will serve you well as a private investigator.
Do you have these skills and characteristics?
- Attention to detail
You may already naturally possess some of these skills, and others you’ll learn on the job.
Now You Know How to Become a Private Investigator
Now that you know how to become a private investigator, you can get started. Perhaps you’re a retired law enforcement officer and already have work experience. Or maybe you’re considering what degree to pursue in order to set yourself up for PI work.
Remember, work experience is the most important thing to obtain your license, so get started applying today.
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