Private Detectives and Investigators: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more

Education Required
Education requirements vary greatly with the job, but most jobs require a high school diploma. Some, though, may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a field such as criminal justice.
Training Required
Most private detectives and investigators learn through on-the-job training, typically lasting between several months and a year.
Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: 10% (Faster than average)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
Licenses/Certifications
Most states require private detectives and investigators to have a license. Check with your state for more information; Professional Investigator Magazine has links to most states’ licensing requirements. Because laws often change, jobseekers should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with the state and locality in which they want to work.
Median pay: How much do Private Detectives and Investigators make?
$48,190 Annual Salary
$23.17 per hour

Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

What do Private Detectives and Investigators do?

Private detectives and investigators typically do the following:

  • Interview people to gather information
  • Search online, public, and court records to uncover clues
  • Conduct surveillance
  • Collect evidence for clients
  • Check for civil judgments and criminal history

Private detectives and investigators offer many services for individuals, attorneys, and businesses. Examples include performing background checks, investigating employees for possible theft from a company, proving or disproving infidelity in a divorce case, and helping to locate a missing person.

Private detectives and investigators use a variety of tools when researching the facts in a case. Much of their work is done with a computer, allowing them to obtain information such as telephone numbers, details about social networks, descriptions of online activities, and records of a person’s prior arrests. They make phone calls to verify facts and interview people when conducting a background investigation.

Detectives also conduct surveillance when investigating a case. They may watch locations, such as a person’s home or office, often from a hidden position. Using cameras and binoculars, detectives gather information on people of interest.

Detectives and investigators must be mindful of the law when conducting investigations. Because they lack police authority, their work must be done with the same authority as a private citizen. As a result, detectives and investigators must have a good understanding of federal, state, and local laws, such as privacy laws, and other legal issues affecting their work. Otherwise, evidence they collect may not be useable in court and they could face prosecution.

Careers for Private Detectives and Investigators

  • Certified legal investigators
  • Licensed private investigators
  • Loss prevention detectives
  • Private detectives
  • Private eyes
  • Private investigators
  • Skip tracers
  • Store detectives

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