How to Become a Private Investigator

private investigator sitting on desk in office

If you enjoy research, you might enjoy becoming a private investigator (PI), also known as a private detective. Now is a great time to consider entering this career field. Before embarking on your journey to become a PI, it is a good idea to learn a bit more about what a PI role entails.

The Job Responsibilities of Private Investigators

Influenced by popular movies and TV shows, many people assume that most PIs work for themselves in their own agencies. In reality, some PIs are employed by government agencies, and others are employed by companies in the finance and insurance sectors. 

The specific job responsibilities and areas of focus can vary from one agency to the next. In general, however, a PI may do any of the following:

  • Search records databases, including court records
  • Interview people
  • Conduct background checks
  • Perform surveillance
  • Conduct accident reconstructions
  • Investigate claims of fraud and crime scenes

Some PIs specialize in one area. For example, some may exclusively do corporate investigations, while others primarily handle background checks within the criminal justice system.

Earn a Degree in Criminal Justice Studies

The educational requirements for a private investigator can vary from one agency to the next. However, it’s common for investigative agencies to require job applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as criminal justice or justice studies.

A justice studies degree is particularly helpful because it provides a thorough overview of criminal and civil laws. PIs are often called upon to conduct investigations of wrongdoing, so a basic understanding of laws is a must-have. Furthermore, PIs need to be mindful of staying on the right side of the law themselves as they conduct their investigations. Any evidence obtained through illegal means will be rejected by the courts.

Another reason a bachelor’s degree in justice studies is helpful for aspiring PIs is that it strengthens their critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills. For instance, you may take courses on threat assessment, behavioral analysis and community planning. During your studies, you may review case studies that apply effective solutions to real-world problems. These can be helpful in dealing with challenges that arise in your criminal justice career.

Cultivate the Necessary Skills and Characteristics

While you are working toward your bachelor’s degree, you can simultaneously begin acquiring or strengthening the key skills and characteristics needed for this profession.

  • Communication skills: Since PIs must prepare written reports for their clients, writing skills are essential. In order to investigate, they must interact with people from all backgrounds. It is necessary to be a persuasive speaker, as some people may be reluctant to provide information.
  • Computer proficiency: All PIs rely on the internet to conduct research for their investigations.
  • Photography skills: Many PIs take photos during their investigations. These can be used as evidence. PIs can also examine their photos later to pick out details they might have missed in person.
  • Patience: PIs who conduct surveillance must be patient enough to wait for long hours in a single place.

Another important trait of an effective private investigator is objectivity. It is important for an investigator to review evidence impartially, without preconceived ideas about the conclusion.

Consider Gaining Relevant Work Experience

Many private investigators come to the profession after having already acquired work experience in a related career. For example, many PIs have served in the military or law enforcement. Others may have worked as process servers, paralegals or claims adjusters. Working for a bill collection agency can also lead to work as a PI.

Although not every PI agency will require prior work experience in a related field, many will. Furthermore, related work experience may be necessary to acquire a license in some states.

Obtain State Licensure

Before you can legally work as a PI, you will likely need to obtain a PI license from the state in which you plan to work. Nearly all states require PIs to hold appropriate licensure. Requirements vary from one state to the next, so check licensure requirements from the start as you begin your journey to become a PI. For example, in Arizona, an individual must document three years of relevant, full-time work experience before obtaining a license.

You can begin working toward an exciting career in private investigations by earning your undergraduate degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences is ideally suited to this career field, as it covers key topics such as threat assessment, criminal procedure and criminal law. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to get started today.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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