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Private Detective and Investigator Job Description, Career as a Private Detective and Investigator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College and experience preferred; licensing required in most states

Salary Median—$33,750 per year

Employment Outlook Fair

Private detectives and investigators’ main purpose is to help others gather information and analyze it to uncover unsolved mysteries. They work on cases for businesses, attorneys and individuals and are sometimes asked to be bodyguards for celebrities, executives, and corporate people.

Private detectives and investigators specialize in the following areas: background checks, computer forensics, locate missing people, child support investigations, spousal surveillance, employee investigations, email tracing, and asset searches.

Most of the time, they work on their own gathering information about a case. They use computers to retrieve data, such as prior convictions, telephone numbers, club memberships, photographs, and motor vehicle registrations. They spend a good portion of their time on the phone while investigating a case. Phone calls help verify information such as an individual’s place of employment. Other times they work out in the field, interviewing others in order to gather more information regarding a case.

Private detectives and investigators are trained to use high-tech surveillance equipment for cases requiring surveillance of a home or other places. They have to obey the law when conducting investigations, and understand the Federal and State legal issues that may affect their work.

They must be intelligent, hard working, and dedicated to each individual case. Private detectives and investigators have to be able to work flexible hours, including early mornings, weekends, evenings, and some holidays.

Education and Training Requirements

Most private detectives and investigators have previous experience in investigative work, as well as some college education. It is not required to have a degree; however, in most states it is required to be licensed.

Those with a college education usually graduate with an associate or a bachelor degree in criminal justice or police science. Corporate investigators must have a bachelor’s degree, with a concentration in a business-related area.

Private detectives and investigators learn mostly on the job. Training begins with computer usage, including how to use databases to gather vital information. Corporate investigators, however, are usually provided formal training offered by their employer.

Most states require private detectives and investigators to be licensed. Each state has its own licensing requirements, which can vary drastically.

Getting the Job

Those interested in pursuing a career as a private detective/investigator should apply directly to the employer. Experience in law enforcement, the military, insurance, or a government intelligent agency is helpful when seeking private detective/investigator positions. Candidates cannot be afraid of confrontation, must possess strong communication skills, and should be able to think quickly on their feet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Job opportunities for private detective and investigators are expected to grow slightly over the next several years. Private detectives and investigators will be needed for increased litigation, to protect confidential data and property, for security concerns, as well as all criminal activity on the Internet, such as email harassment, identity theft, and illegal downloading of copywriting items.

It is expected that private detectives and investigators will gain added responsibilities including employee background checks and the need to monitor worldwide financial activities. New job seekers will have the best opportunities for part-time entry-level positions in detective agencies or stores.

Advancement opportunities are limited for private detectives and investigators. Because they usually work for small agencies, the only type of advancements they receive is an increased salary and higher level assignments. Many private detectives and investigators start their own businesses, while those working in corporate and legal agencies take on supervisory roles and managerial positions.

Working Conditions

The work environment for private detectives and investigators varies depending on the case. Some cases keep them in front of their computer doing research and making phone calls to help collect data. Other cases take them out in the field, conducting interviews and doing surveillance.

There is stress involved with this line of work, especially when private detectives and investigators are required to go into dangerous environments to gather information about their case. They do not typically carry weapons, however, some cases require private detectives and investigators to be armed, especially if they are assigned as bodyguards.

Private detectives and investigators usually work alone and work all hours of the day such as early mornings, evenings, as well as some weekends and holidays.

Where to Go for More Information

National Association of Legal Investigation
908 21st Street
Sacramento, CA 95814-3118

1625 Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-2818

State Department of Public Safety, State Division of Licensing, or local or state police headquarters can provide information on private detective and investigator licensing.

Earnings and Benefits

Private detective and investigators’ salaries vary depending on the employer. Although the median salary in 2006 was $33,750 per year, they can make anywhere from $24,000 per year to as high as $63,000 per year. Other variables that determine their wages include geographic region and specialty.

Private detective and investigators who are self-employed purchase their own health insurance plans. Those who work for stores or hotels may receive some benefits offered by their employer.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service