How to Become a Private Investigator (PI)

Thinking about becoming a private investigator? This article explains what it takes to become a PI.

Are you a logical thinker? Are you able to analyze situations to come to sound conclusions? Do you have an eye for details? Do you have an interest in the law, computer science, or other social sciences? If so, you may be the ideal candidate to explore a career as a private investigator.

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The most common and profitable work for private investigators involves observing and obtaining proof of bad behavior by spouses and partners. In general, private investigators undertake investigations of individuals to find evidence of illegal conduct. These investigators involve private citizens or private entities not involved with the government or the police. Often, they work for defense attorneys in civil cases as well.
Many private investigators are going by the term professional investigator instead of private investigator in an attempt to appear more proper and respectable in the public eye.

In the past, some television shows and the media have given private investigators a negative connotation. In real life, it is very important that private investigators are upstanding citizens and take great pains to follow the law. They cannot trespass, break into homes, or carry firearms illegally for fear of losing their license and facing criminal charges. Also, any information or evidence obtained illegally is not admissible in court.

While a formal degree is not necessary, course work or an associates or bachelors degree in criminal justice, political science, computer forensics, or a business field can prove to be beneficial. Most private investigators have a high school diploma, some college, and 1-5 years experience in a related field. Many are former law enforcement officers who have chosen to take a different path with their career.

On the job training is how most private investigators learn their craft. After working with other investigators, many choose to specialize in a field of expertise such as skip tracing or surveillance. Surveillance investigators may need to work irregular hours in order to collect the evidence needed for their clients. Some private investigators only deal with electronic surveillance, such as debugging a home, for example. One area that many people do not realize that private investigators spend a great deal of time on is known as process serving. This means delivering summons, subpoenas, and other legal documents to individuals.


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Licensing laws for private investigators vary by state. While most states do require licensing, some do not and have other requirements such as training or professional certification. In some states, private investigators must pass very specific tests to obtain the authority to practice. Private investigators who work close to state lines should be certified in all states in which they plan to practice.
The median pay for private investigators is $42,870 per year or an average of $20 per hour. Pay varies based on the area in which the investigator chooses to specialize as well as location and years of experience. Urban areas tend to pay more while rural investigators will make less.

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For those with an interest in the law and willing to work flexible hours, pursuing a career as a private investigator can be a good fit. With this info on how to become a private investigator, you’re well on your way to a successful career in the field of private investigating.