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Private Detective and Investigator Careers, Jobs and Training Information

Private Investigator and Detective Career and Job Highlights

  • Work can be hazardous and often may involve late or weekend hours.
  • One-third are self-employed.
  • Many have prior military, law enforcement, insurance, or government intelligence experience.
  • Part-time store detectives and detective agencies will provide the greatest opportunities for new applicants; due to the many qualified people interested in this field, competition is quite intense.

Private Detective and Investigator Career Overview

Investigators and private detectives discover facts employing a number of different methods. Different types of surveillance and search techniques are used to conduct investigations. Detectives or investigators may place phone calls or visit places of employment to verify facts about someone’s work or income. They conduct interviews in order to generate as much background information on someone as possible, especially when conducting background checks or searching for missing persons. Private individuals, lawyers, and businesses all receive assistance from private investigators and detectives regarding a number of money-, law-, and personal-related issues.

Personal protection services for celebrities, businesses, and corporate executives by investigators and private detectives. They may also aid in background checks, fact verification for employment, investigations concerning injury law suits and liability, child support and custody battles, fraudulent insurance claims investigations, and a variety of other situations. An increasing number are being hired to investigate a spouse or partner’s fidelity.

Detectives and investigators typically have received some training with regards to on-site surveillance, often stationed for long hours in a car observing a property or person. They pursue the required evidence by using cell phones, binoculars or scopes, and video recording equipment. Computers provide instant access to much personal information that may be relevant to an investigation—namely, phone numbers, criminal history, club or group memberships; car registrations; etc.

What exactly a detective or investigator does depends on the client. In an investigation sponsored by an employer into a suspected fraudulent compensation claim, detectives may observe the employee for long periods of time; when the employee did something that provided evidence that the claim was fraudulent, the investigator would take video or photographs to report the findings to the employer.

Many detectives and investigators choose to specialize. For example, those specializing in intellectual property theft track pirates and assist their clients in stopping the illegal activities. They also provide evidence for lawyers in court proceedings. Others focus on financial and estate affairs, conducting interviews, researching public documents, and carrying out investigations to profile someone’s assets or resources.

Legal investigators typically work with court cases and are paid by attorneys and law firms. The assist with preparing defense cases, conducting interviews of the police that handled the incident and witnesses, collect and analyze evidence, and deliver papers and files. These investigators also prepare documents for courts, conduct background investigations on persons involved in the court case, and may even give testimony in court.

Corporations may employ investigators, aptly named corporate investigators, to investigate internal and external circumstances and situations. In-house, these investigators may look into suspected workplace drug use, merchandise theft, or misuse of company funds. The primary focus of external investigations involves crimes committed against the company, such as false billing by suppliers.

When a large amount of money is involved with a company transaction, financial investigators may be hired to look into the financial backgrounds of individuals and businesses involved. Many of these investigators are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and have experience with banking and accountancy. Court-mandated damages to be paid may be recovered by careful investigations conducted by financial investigators into financial assets.

The primary focus of store detectives is to protect merchandise from theft and hinder thieves and shoplifters from successfully stealing company property. Loss prevention agents, as some store detectives are known, also help stop suspects from destroying store property. They are responsible for apprehending anyone caught stealing, including store employees, product representatives visiting the store, and delivery persons. As part of their duties, they may inspect areas of the store as well as help close and open the store each day. Store detectives help prepare security reports and testify against shoplifters they have apprehended. Hotel detectives ensure safety and order on hotel premises, as well as protect hotel guests’ belongings. These detectives may prohibit certain known thieves or otherwise undesirable persons from entering hotel property.

Private Detective and Investigator Training and Job Qualifications

While no formal private investigator training requirements exist to obtain employment as an investigator or private detective, many private investigators have earned a college degree and have some work experience in a related field—law enforcement, government intelligence, insurance, military, auditing, etc. Others gain experience through employment with private security or a collections agency. Private investigator many also complete a vocational private investigator training program to prepare for their career.

Due to the early retirement possibilities (some after only 20 years) of military personnel, government agents, and police officers, many of these people make private investigation their second career. Individuals from fields like law, insurance, investigative journalism, and credit or collections apply their knowledge as investigators in a related field. Some begin their investigation careers immediately following their graduation from college with a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice.

Investigators and private detectives must have a license in most States and the District of Columbia. In many of these States, convicted felons are prohibited from becoming private detectives, and many more States are requiring minimum, mandatory training for investigators. While many States maintain strict licensing requirements, 6 States have no standardized requirements—South Dakota, Mississippi, Idaho, Colorado, Alaska, and Alabama. One example of stringent licensing practice comes from the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Private investigators must: pass a personal background check; pass a 2-hour legal examination; be at least 18 years old; and possess an education in criminal law, justice, or police science or work experience as a detective, or a combination of both equaling 6,000 hours (approximately 3 years). In order to be able to carry a weapon on the job, prospective investigators must meet additional regulations.

Ambition, diligence, and creativity are important characteristics employers look for when hiring investigators. Good communication skills, quick thinking, and an ability to confront problems are crucial. Earlier law enforcement careers help candidates develop essential interrogation techniques and interviewing methods. Private detectives must be able to show the facts they have obtained in their investigation in a convincing way to juries, since they are the ones that ultimately decide the validity of a case.

A college education is a valuable asset for prospective detectives, especially in courses related to law enforcement or criminal justice. The majority of corporate investigators are required to hold a degree, typically in finance or some other business-related subject. Other corporate investigators hold master’s degrees in law and business or have professional certifications, like CPAs. Large companies often provide training for newly hired investigators regarding the company’s management hierarchy, policies, and finance practices. Prospective employees must usually pass a criminal background check to be considered seriously for the job.

Investigators who do the largest portion of their work in the fields of criminal defense and negligence can use the title Certified Legal Investigator, a title conferred on them by the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI) after they meet education and experience requirements and pass the oral and written tests that the organization gives. Other investigators seek certification by other professional organizations.

Because there is not a lot opportunity to be promoted in the small detective agencies that are most common, advancement usually involves only a raise or increased responsibility; there are typically no ranks or hierarchies to rise in. Many private detectives start their own agencies after learning skills and techniques working in established firms at the commencement of their careers. Management and administration personnel may be promoted from within in a corporate investigative department.

Private Detective and Investigator Job and Employment Opportunities

Because of the high numbers of relatively young retired military and police officers who enter this profession, competition is keen. Part-time jobs with stores and detective agencies will supply the most beginning positions. Specifically, chain stores and discount stores will provide the most detective employment opportunities.

Despite the competition, job growth in the private detective and investigator industry is projected to be faster than average through 2012. Retiring investigators will create additional job opportunities. Public fear of crime, security needs related to business documents and information, and an increase in the total number of law suits all lend themselves to creating more demand for investigative services. Lawyers will hire more detectives for their assistance with cases related to litigation and criminal cases. The increase in business activity and financial transactions will increase the need for investigators to protect company assets from theft and to prevent intellectual property theft by competitors.

Historical Earnings Information

The median yearly salary in 2002 for investigators and private detectives was $29,300. The lowest 10 percent made less than $17,290 while the highest 10 percent earned more than $57,370. The second and third quartiles earned $21,980 and $41,710, respectively. Investigation and security services warranted a median $29,030 in 2002 with $22,250 being the median at department stores. Higher annual earnings are possible with experience and employment in the most profitable fields.