Private Investigator Career Facts and Working Environment

Private Investigator Career Facts

Many private detectives and investigators come into the field after other careers, particularly in law enforcement and the military.

Private Investigator Career Description

Private detectives and investigators work for a variety of clients to confirm facts either through paperwork or surveillance. They assist people in legal matters and with a wide range of problems.

Private Investigator Career Details

Private detectives and investigators offer a range of services, from working for an insurance company to prove that fraud is being committed, to making phone calls for a background check for a potential employee. Any private detective and investigator will use their training to perform a variety of means to obtain information. This could mean a long stakeout in a van, waiting for a suspect to emerge from a building, or sifting through old paperwork to determine someone's actual financial livelihood. On the whole, all private detectives and investigators work to pick up facts where someone else's investigation has fallen short.

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Quick Fact
In 2017, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma*.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

Private Investigator Career Specializations

Legal investigators are employed by lawyers or law firms to gather facts for use in a courtroom or legal proceeding. Their work is most common in criminal cases, either to back up police notes or to dispute them. They are also helpful in tracking down witnesses. Corporate investigators work within firms to excavate abuse of company procedure. This might mean investigating drug use within the company, or a violation of financial rules. They might also investigate other companies with which their employer has business. Financial investigators are often trained as certified public accountants, and look to assets to recover damages awarded by a court. In other words, they help to make sure that those who are determined to owe money are held accountable. Store detectives, or loss prevention agents, work in retail stores (often undercover) to protect the store from theft.

Private Investigator Career Working Environment

Private detectives and investigators work in a variety of atmospheres. They typically have an office, where they fill out paperwork and are reachable. But their work takes them all over, following leads and tracking down information. A requisite of the job is the ability to become comfortable enough to find information even in unfamiliar areas. One of the hardest aspects of this field is the stakeout, which could require sitting in a cramped area for hours or even days at a time. While much of the work is tedious, it can also be creative and stimulating at times, as investigators work to prove a theory by any means necessary.

Private Investigator Career Required Training

There are no formal requirements to become a private detective or investigator, but many of the most successful come to the field after careers that do require a degree. Many come from police or military work, where the retirement age is relatively young and where they learned applicable skills. Others come from a business or accounting background, and want to apply their knowledge to investigation. While a degree is not a requirement, most states demand that their private detectives and investigators are licensed. Requirements vary by state, but more are increasingly making some sort of training mandatory before certification. In California, for example, the requirement is that the applicant is at least 18 years old, has some police, criminal law or justice education, and three years of investigative experience. He or she must then pass a test administered by the Department of Justice, and a criminal background check. No felons may be certified.

Private Investigator Career Coursework

Across the board, training in criminal justice is highly recommended. For corporate investigators, knowledge of business and accounting is a plus. But most of all, it is simply important that a private detective or investigator knows how to think on his or her feet and interact with people.

Private Investigator Career Future Job Outlook

Employment in this area is expected to grow faster than average in the next 10 years, but competition is fierce because of the number of talented people who want to move into this field as their next career. Even entry-level positions draw highly-qualified applicants.

Private Investigator Salary

In 2010, the median annual earnings of a private detective or investigator were $42,870. But this varies greatly by region and one's employer.

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Career Info Legal