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How to become a private investigator

How to become a private investigator

To become a private investigator it is important to do your own research to find out what the job is all about, what it entails, what you need to do to get there and whether or not it is really for you. Private investigators are seen in one of two ways: rundown, alcoholic ex-cops who smoke too much or tough and self-confident detectives with snappy suits and action-packed lives.

The reality is very different and anyone who wants to become a private investigator needs to understand that it is a real profession that will require hard work to succeed. On this page you will find a brief summary of what you need to do in order to get started in private investigation.


Do your homework

Before you even attempt to become a private investigator, speak to P.I.s who have been in the profession a few years. They will be able to give you some idea of the reality of working as a P.I. and what is involved. Also speak to them about the different areas of specialization and what sort of qualifications and skills you may need in order to be licensed. You may find that the impression you are left with after interviewing investigators doesn't quite live up to your expectations and if this is enough to put you off it may mean that you are pursuing the wrong line of work.

Volunteering at an agency is an excellent way to get your foot in the door and will also give you insight into the inner workings of the private investigators world. Once you have decided what you would like to specialize in (e.g. surveillance, arson investigations or fraud) you need to get qualified.

Qualifications and requirements for a license
People who become private investigators have a wide variety of qualifications ranging from law enforcement to college degrees in criminal justice. This is your competition so while requirements for becoming an investigator may vary from state to state it is a good idea to take the extra steps to gaining a good qualification.

If you don't have a law enforcement background there are a number of professional investigator schools you could enroll in. It is also useful to have a college degree. Studying criminal justice is usually a good place to start but you can study anything that relates to your chosen specialization. For example, if you want to go into patent fraud, study engineering.

Each state will have different requirements and some may need you to take an exam to test your efficiency as an investigator. The state department of professional regulation should be able to provide you with information on the necessary requirements and regulations. This includes licensing and insurance requirements.

Other skills you are likely to need include photography and videography for surveillance purposes, good interpersonal skills, good writing skills (for written reports) and proficiency in research using a range of sources including the Internet.

Note: You will not be able to get a licensed qualification if you have been convicted of a felony; providing investigative services without a license is a criminal offense.