How do I become a private investigator?
That’s a complicated question with several parts that largely depend upon in which state you plan on working. You have two options; you either work for a licensed private investigations agency or you go to work for yourself and obtain your own PI company license. Either way, you there are two considerations you must address at some point:
The first consideration is licensing; all but only a handful of states require a state-issued license to be a private investigator. Each state has different background, education and experience requirements that may vary from simply attending a state-approved training course to pre-licensing education, exams, years of work experience and obtaining a sizable professional liability insurance policy with “errors and omissions” coverage. To make matters just a little more confusing, there are some cities that require private investigators to either register or obtain a municipal license in states that do not otherwise require them.
The second consideration is training. Private investigation specific training is the most important investment you can make in yourself! Since most new PIs don’t have the ability or are not ready to start up their own investigations company you will most likely be looking for employment with an established agency. As an owner of an established and well respected detective agency I get resumes all of the time; the first thing I look for before considering a candidate is to ask the question, “How has this person invested in themselves before asking me to invest in them?”
What if I do not have the minimum experience required by the state to obtain my own company license? How will I ever break into the industry?
If your goal is to eventually own your private investigations agency, no problem… every state that requires experience also has a program in place to see that new investigators have access to eventually obtaining their own license. For example, in Texas where we hold an agency license those who are too new simply go to work for an established company until they have the required number of hours to be able apply for their own license. In Florida (where we also have an agency license) they specifically provide internship licenses. Again, every state is a little bit different but thousands of successful private investigators are working today and tens of thousands have come before us; we all had to get started someplace… you can too.
Also, consider your own background and employment related experience carefully some of it may apply. I have known loss prevention agents, security guards (in specific roles), accountants, firemen, bail bondsmen, alarm installers, teachers, and even a librarian use their previous employment experiences to apply for their own agency license.
What type of training should I be looking into?
Any amount of training is great though most PI companies don’t place a whole lot of credibility with the courses from PCDI, Harcourt, and Thompson Direct. You could honestly do much better and at less cost.
Instead, look for academies or training programs that have been created by private investigators. Who knows better about what a new or an aspiring private detective needs to know than an investigator who has been in the field for a considerable amount of time?
Also… look to see that the sponsoring company is active in the industry as well. Are they still providing regular private investigative services to a robust clientele? It’s sad, but many PIs who wash out over a very short period of time in the business look to teaching. In reality, you will learn very little from those who could not make it themselves; success breeds success!
Lastly, I have a little secret I would like to share with you…
Look over the education provider’s entire website and see if you find boastful claims or where the company is bashing other educators. This is a very tight-knit industry and you will find that students who complete training programs from educators that spend time “bad mouthing the competition” have a terrible time getting a break simply because of the animosity created through their educator’s use of negative advertising. I know that seems unfair but it is a reality in this business. This does not mean, however, that you should dismiss the negative press but the first thing an excellent private investigator learns is how to evaluate a claim, identify the source and make a judgment based on additional facts and research. Some statements will have merit while others will not; it’s up to you to make that decision.
What is the difference between a private investigator and a private detective?
Nothing. The terms are used interchangeably but some states choose to use the term “detective” while most use the term “investigator.”
I really just want to help my friends and family to find old friends or people who owe them money. Do I need a PI license?
That’s a great question. Generally speaking, in those states where it is a requirement you will need to obtain a license if you hold yourself out for hire or accept payment from another person or business and participate in or provide the following services:
o Obtaining or furnish information related to a crime or the identity, habits, business, occupation, knowledge, movement, location, affiliations, associations,transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a person, group or company.
o Securing evidence for use before a court, board, officer, or committee
o Locating or recovering lost or stolen property and unclaimed funds.
o Determining the cause or responsibility for a fire, libel, loss, accident, damage, or injury to a person or to property.
Some states may specifically include such things as service of process, bail enforcement, personal protection and genealogical research under those activities that require a private investigator’s license as well.
Do I have to have a degree in Criminal Justice from a college or university?
No, though some states may accept a degree in Criminal Justice, Administration of Justice or Police Sciences in lieu of the minimum experience requirements. One recent study conducted on behalf of the Virginia Department of Justice concluded that almost 57% of all private investigators do not have a college education.
If I do not have a college education do I have to have a background as a police officer or other law enforcement related profession?
No. Most private investigators do not have a law enforcement background before entering into this industry. It is true that many private investigators may have once had a career in criminal justice but the bottom-line is that private investigation and law enforcement is very different and my experience has been that very few who make the transition from law enforcement are prepared for this type of work, either technically or creatively, on their own. Most of them recognize this and seek industry specific training as well.