Featured Schools

    Claflin University
    Lake Erie College
    Lesley University
    Notre Dame College

Signup for email updates!

Email signup

Private Detective And Investigator Careers

Career Description

Private Detectives and Investigators detect occurrences of unlawful acts or infractions of rules in private establishment, or seek, examine, and compile information for client.

Common Work Tasks

  • Assist individuals, businesses, and attorneys by finding and analyzing information
  • Connect small clues to solve mysteries or to uncover facts about legal, financial, or personal matters
  • Use a computer to recover deleted e-mails and documents, convictions, and civil legal judgments; telephone numbers; motor vehicle registrations; association and club memberships; and photographs
  • Interview people to gather as much information as possible about an individual
  • Go undercover, pretending to be someone else to get information or to observe a subject inconspicuously
  • Observe a site, such as the home of a subject,  from an inconspicuous location or a vehicle
  • Use surveillance to gather information on an individual
  • Carry out long-term covert observation of a person suspected of fraud
  • Investigate and document acts of piracy, help clients stop illegal activity, and provide intelligence for prosecution and civil action
  • Provide assistance in criminal and civil liability cases, insurance claims and fraud, child custody and protection cases, missing persons cases, and premarital screening

Other Job Titles

Private Detectives and Investigators are also known by other titles, including:

  • Police Detectives
  • Criminal Investigators
  • Undercover Agents
  • Police Officers

Education, Training, and Experience

Education and Training
  There are no formal education requirements for most private detective and investigator jobs,  although many have college degrees. Courses in criminal justice and police science are helpful to aspiring private detectives and investigators. Although related experience is usually required, some people enter the occupation directly after graduation from college, generally with an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or police science.

Certification and Licensure
      The majority of States and the District of Columbia require private detectives and investigators to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, however. Seven States—Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota—have no Statewide licensing requirements, some States have few requirements, and many others have stringent regulations. For example, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services of the California Department of Consumer Affairs requires private investigators to be 18 years of age or older;  have a combination of education in police science, criminal law, or justice and experience equaling 3 years (6,000 hours); pass a criminal history background check by the California Department of Justice and the FBI (in most States, convicted felons cannot be issued a license); and receive a qualifying score on a 2-hour written examination covering laws and regulations. Detectives and investigators in all States who carry handguns must meet additional requirements for a firearms permit.

          For private detective and investigator jobs, most employers look for individuals with ingenuity, persistence, and assertiveness. A candidate must not be afraid of confrontation, should communicate well, and should be able to think on his or her feet. Good interviewing and interrogation skills also are important and usually are acquired in earlier careers in law enforcement or other fields. Because the courts often are the judge of a properly conducted investigation, the investigator must be able to present the facts in a manner that a jury will believe. The screening process for potential employees typically includes a background check for a criminal history.


The median annual salary for a Private Detectives and Investigator is $38,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $72,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $21,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of private detectives and investigators are:

  • Investigation and Security Services- $38,700
  • Other General Merchandise Stores - $27,360
  • Department Stores - $29,250
  • Local Government - $50,340
  • Legal Services - $50,410

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  18%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 9,400
  • Employment 2006 : 52,000
  • Employment 2016:  61,000
Ask An Expert: Real Questions, Expert Answers

Ask your Question