The majority of Private Investigators in America tend to be self-employed. They provide independent services to private citizens/organizations that request their expertise for conducting surveillance, gathering information, investigating abnormalities, etc. Moreover, private investigators also work for law enforcement agencies and investigative firms on special assignments or even permanent basis.
If this sounds like something you would enjoy doing and making a career out of, then this guide is certainly for you. Read on to understand what being a private investigator is about and what you need to do to become one.
What Does a Private Investigator Do?
Private investigators take on different types of cases (pertaining to financial, legal and private matters) that involve keeping surveillance on individuals on the behalf of clients, recovering stolen/rare objects, uncovering secrets, investigating fraud, etc. They may or may not carry firearms while working.
Because private investigators are not employed by the state, they do not have any special rights for carrying a weapon. However, they can choose to do so like normal citizens by getting a permit. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an 8% growth in work opportunities for Private Detectives and Investigators between 2018 and 2028.
Steps to Become a Private Investigator in the United States
To become a Private Investigator in the US, follow the process described below.
Step 1: Fulfill the Required Educational Requirements
There are no binding educational requirements for becoming a private investigator. A High School Diploma or equivalent GED (General Educational Development) Certificate is often enough to secure entry-level employment. However, some postsecondary education in a relevant field is recommended. Taking courses on criminal justice, law, police science, surveillance techniques and business administration will prove useful later on while working on various types of cases.
Step 2: Undergo Training for the Role
The most important education for private detectives is obtained on the job. Some firms even have specialized training programs for young investigators on their books. For instance, insurance companies may hire and train private investigators to uncover fraud. On the other hand, surveillance firms are likely to teach their investigators how to watch areas, keep a tail on targets, etc.
Step 3: Obtain Your State License
Most states in America require private investigators to be licensed and have their own assessment criteria in this regard. Apart from having the required education and experience, you will have to complete the state licensing exam and clear all background checks. If you plan on carrying a firearm, then there might be some additional requirements to fulfill.
Step 4: Get a Professional Certification
Once you get your license and are able to practice, you should explore different certification options to upgrade your skillset from time to time. Following are a few popular choices.
Certified Legal Investigator
Offered by the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI), you will need 5 years of experience in negligence cases and criminal defense investigations to apply for this certification.
Professional Certified Investigator
Offered by ASIS International, this certification guarantees that investigators are well qualified in investigative tools and techniques, case management and case presentation.
How Much Does a Private Investigator Make in the US?
As per information made available by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Private Detectives and Investigators had an annual mean income of $57,000 in 2019. The median annual earnings for the year amounted to $50,510. District of Columbia was the highest-paying state with a 2019 mean salary of $69,790 while Florida had the highest number of Private Detectives and Investigators in the country at 4,350.