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Brian Humenuk | Author | COPJOT.

By Brian HumenukCOPJOT

Updated on August 4, 2022

6 minute read

What is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator, sometimes called a private detective or Private Eye, is a person who is hired privately to provide investigative services under a professional license. Private Investigators are independent civilian investigators hired by individuals or organizations dealing with civil or criminal matters that require surveillance, documentation, research, or interviews in order to provide evidence in legal, criminal, or business investigations. Conducting private investigations using software, gadgetry, training, education, and experience and operating under a private investigator license the investigator will be able to provide you with information and or documentation that you are willing to pay for.

Is Being a Private Investigator a good career?

Yes, being a Private Investigator can be a good career if you like to do research, enjoy a slow paced environment, can self manage work tasks and tracking down people and information brings you personal fulfillment.

Problem Solver

Helping solve peoples problems that sometimes are weight them down heavily can bring satisfaction especially if you are in a niche where you find missing persons or missing property.

Be Independent or Run a Business

Besides private investigations you may need to be able to run many aspects of a business like advertising, retaining clients, email and phone calls, budgeting and book keeping. Many private investigators are self employed or work with a partner.

Accept a Challenge

People pursue Private Investigator careers for a variety of reasons. Some love the challenge of uncovering information and piecing it together in a way that connects circumstances that others may not are able to or have been able to figure out. Many people view an investigative career as a  progression of their military service or law enforcement experience. Others see a PI job as an interesting way to supplement their income or continue to work part time as a post retirement career.

Diversity and Continued Learning

Due to the nature of investigative work, you may find yourself working in diverse fields that range from corporate clients to law enforcement collaboration. If you enjoy learning new skills and information, being a Private Investigator is right up your alley.

Employment Facts and Job Outlook in the Private Investigation Field

Employment Facts: Private Investigators / Detectives
2021 Median Pay $59,380 per year $28.55 per hour
Entry Level Education High School Diploma or equivalent
Number of jobs, 2021 37,000
Job outlook, 2021 6%, average
Employment change, 2021 + 2,100
U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics

What can private investigators do?

Private investigators may concentrate their careers on finding missing persons, performing background checks, performing investigative services, or conducting marital investigations. Private investigators may work alongside law enforcement personnel or official law enforcement during criminal investigations, or they may work as skip tracers alongside bail bondsmen or bounty hunters. They may also specialize in uncovering insurance fraud, finding missing children or finding information pertinent to settling civil matters.

Finally, private investigators may work in a more general capacity, providing a wide array of investigative services to clients such as insurance companies, banks, and law firms.

Regardless of the area or industry in which they work, private investigators follow a strict set of standards, which are generally dictated by state law.

Many private investigators are members of state professional investigator associations, which also require them to work under local laws, a set of bylaws and a code of ethics.

What is the main purpose of a private investigator?

Private investigators must have a keen eye, excellent observation skills, and be able to practice patience. Often referred to as private detectives, these professionals use a number of surveillance and investigative techniques to gather accurate information on the subject or situation in question. Most Private investigators are licensed to practice in the state in which they work, and may either work full time as employees or be contracted to work with private detective firms, police departments, private businesses, and organizations.

Private Detective and Investigator areas of Specialty

Although the services they provide may differ depending on the case or industry in which they work, their skill sets are often very similar, as they are called upon to uncover facts and evidence, analyze information, and provide their clients with the results of their investigation. Regardless of the career path or niche a private investigator chooses, their talents lie in being able to gather and analyze information. This may include:

  • Civil Investigation
  • Criminal Investigation
  • Conduct Surveillance
  • Investigative business administration
  • Criminology and behavioral sciences
  • Terrorism and intelligence
  • Insurance claims investigation
  • Investigative law and ethics
  • Special victims/child abuse/nursing homes
  • Consulting or giving second opinions
  • Security
  • Computer forensics/Internet
  • Insurance investigation
  • Is it a good idea to become a private investigator?

What are the Requirements to Become a Private Investigator?

Education 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 from an accredited university. Training Private detectives and investigators typically need several years of work experience and a high school diploma. In addition, the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license. Work experience Private detectives and investigators must typically have previous work experience, usually in law enforcement, the military, or federal intelligence. Those in such jobs, who are frequently able to retire after 20 or 25 years of service, may become private detectives or investigators in a second career. Licenses and Certifications  Most states require private detectives and investigators to have private investigator licenses and it is absolutely necessary in order to work for a licensed private investigative agency. There may be a licensing fee associated with the application and renewal process. Currently, 43 states require state licensing to practice as a private investigator. Even those states without state licensing often require licensing at the local level. Therefore, becoming a private investigator the majority of the time involves not only seeking formal education and trainingin demand but state licensure, as well. State licensing ensures that private investigators work within the parameters of the law at all times and adhere to a strict set of laws and regulations.

Requirements for state licensing differ from state to state, although most states require the following:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • A minimum age (state requirements range from 18 to 25)
  • A clean criminal record of felony convictions or convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude
  • Industry experience and/or a college education
  • A United States citizen or legal resident

Yearly Continuing Education or Professional Development hours

Most States require the completion of continuing education during every license renewal period. This can be in the form of online or in person classes where you gain credit for hours completed.

Every year or every licensing period the state will require the private investigator complete classes on topics that may change or stay the same like ethics, professionalism, public records law etc.

How much money can Private Investigators earn per year?

The below table will give you an average amount of money a Private Investigator can earn in different investigative areas.

Annual Pay by Investigative Services Provided
Finance and Insurance $64,010
Government $62,090
Investigation, Guard, and armored car services $51,630


Top 5 highest-paying US states for Private Investigators

Top 5 highest paying US states for Private Investigator
California $68,570
Delaware $65,610
Utah $64,440
Nevada $64,200
New Jersey $63,970
US Bureau of Labor Statistics


Top 5 Lowest-Paying US states for Private Investigators

Top 5 lowest paying US states for Private Investigator
Florida $41,750
Indiana $42,430
Oklahoma $44,180
Wisconsin $44,480
Nebraska $45,040
US Bureau of Labor Statistics


Is a PI a cop?

A PI is not a Police Officer or COP and are private citizens unless they are deputized or sworn in by a law enforcement agency. Private investigators normally are not a sworn law enforcement officer or local government official. Many Private Investigators are prior police officers or retired police officers. A police officer who was once assigned as a detective may upon retirement become a successful private investigator.


Tips on How to Get Started as a Private Investigator

College and Continuing Education

Attain an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or related field. A criminal justice degree can provide you with some basic knowledge of criminal law.


Joining your countries armed forces and specializing as a military police officer will give you great training and experience.


Seek a short internship with government agencies like a law enforcement agency or the courts in order to build your resume


Reach out to private investigator firms and seek mentorship from a certified investigator.

Weapons Licensing

It may not be a requirement to carry a firearm but many private I’s do. For aspiring private investigators it would be a good idea to apply for a license to carry firearms which would include a background check and undergo firearms training like a basic firearms safety course. Depending on the state, passing a background investigation in order to receive a license to carry firearms is a good addition to your resume.

Professional Development

Read books or articles on how to conduct investigations. Seek also online courses in subject matter like what types of investigative software is on the market and how to use it. Do some research on public records law and familiarize yourself with how to request and receive law enforcement documents in your state. Read books or articles on how to conduct business practices.

More Information

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