Private Investigator Careers

When it comes to finding hard-to-locate information — and sometimes hard-to-find people — private investigators are the first to receive the call.

These highly resourceful individuals work in the business and legal industries alongside law enforcement, in retail operations or with private clientele to research matters of interest. Though they may work long hours often under stressful circumstances, the work of a private investigator is rewarding and one that offers challenges each day. Though private investigation is the perfect second career for retired law enforcement or military, there are plenty of opportunities for beginning investigators. Read on for more information on this rewarding career.

What does a private investigator do?

Private investigators, sometimes referred to as detectives, are experts at research. Though they are not law enforcement, investigators research information to help with criminal cases. Conducting background checks, analyzing financial records, providing personal or corporate security and assisting with locating missing persons are just a few of their duties. They may also perform surveillance on persons of interest.

Private investigators use many tools and techniques to perform their job. They may use surveillance cameras and sound equipment to detect criminal or improper activity. They sometimes use computers to gather information from files. Investigators also utilize equipment and appropriate procedures to ensure safe handling of evidence for criminal cases.

Detectives work in a variety of settings. Private clients, law enforcement, retail operations, corporate firms and government agencies all enlist the help of private investigators.

The daily life of an investigator varies and offers new challenges each day. Due to the nature of their work, they often work long hours and irregular schedules. Sometimes, they spend hours or days undercover performing surveillance. Other days they spend sitting at a computer gathering information. Still other days, they may spend time in the field interviewing witnesses.

The job can get stressful at times, as private investigators sometimes work with law enforcement on urgent matters. They may also sometimes need to confront people who are engaging in illegal activities.

Field Specialties for a Private Investigator

While many investigators are generalists, most specialize in one area of investigations.

Some investigators work in retail stores. During their day, they review surveillance footage to catch theft or fraud. They also may work undercover in the store to detect theft. Sometimes, they even take on the role of providing security for the store.

Corporations sometimes hire private investigators for a variety of matters. These investigators may perform background checks on current or potential employees. Some investigators may have personal experience in finance and may be called upon to analyze financial records for misconduct.

Another area of specialty is that of a computer forensics investigator. These highly technical investigators are experts at gathering information off computers. They may need to locate hidden or corrupt files. They may also analyze online and social media records to discover information. Sometimes, investigators may need to reconstruct a damaged computer to find information.

Some instigators work directly with law enforcement agencies to assist with cases. During their day, they may spend time performing undercover work by following persons of interest. They may interview witnesses, analyze evidence or help with missing person cases. They sometimes even provide expert testimony in court.

Insurance companies sometimes hire private investigators to research claims to ensure the validity of the claim. Some investigators choose to work with private clients. They may work to prove or disprove infidelity in divorce cases. Finally, they may research child custody disputes or provide private security to individuals, families or celebrities.

Salary and Job Outlook for Private Investigator

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median average wage for private investigators is $50,700 per year. Investigators at the low end of the pay scale earned just $28,000, while those on the higher end earned over $86,000.

Detectives working with government agencies made the highest median wage at $56,700. Those working in retail earned about $45,300. Employment for investigators is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. While there is plenty of opportunity for entry to the field, new investigators may face competition from more experienced investigators from law enforcement or the military. With advancement in technology, private investigators with computer forensics experience are expected to be in high demand.

Training and Education Requirements

Most private investigators jobs only require a high school diploma, although some employers prefer investigators with at least an associates or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Depending on the position, some investigators must have experience in accounting, computers or surveillance techniques. Some fields may even require investigators to have formal training in handguns and may require a concealed carry permit.

Most states require private investigators to have a license to perform their job legally. Private investigation is sometimes a second career for many. Some investigators are retired law enforcement or military personnel. Others have spent time working in collections, insurance claims or as paralegals. Aspiring investigators also begin their careers by working alongside a more experienced investigator to learn the trade before advancing their careers.

Skills and Character Traits of a Good Private Investigator

Good investigators are inquisitive. They are persistent and work tirelessly until they find what they are seeking. Investigators must exhibit patience, as they may often spend long hours conducting surveillance. Also, good investigators are resourceful. Usually, the information they seek is not readily available. They must know how to locate that information through alternate means.

Private investigators must possess strong verbal communication skills. They must be able to clearly explain their findings to their clients in writing or verbally.

By using surveillance equipment, computers and a variety of tools of the trade, investigators get to the bottom of matters of interest for law enforcement, corporate and private clients. Private investigators enjoy a highly challenging yet lucrative career. It is one that requires resourcefulness, patience and persistence to get the job done. Regardless of experience level, it is a field that offers plenty of room to specialize, grow and learn new skills each day.

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