What is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator is a licensed professional who does investigative work for clients. You might see these men and women in television shows and movies and imagine yourself spending long hours on stake outs in your car and tracking down suspects across the country. Most investigators take on simple cases like helping a client catch a cheating spouse, but they also do background checks for companies and work with larger clients. Before trying to get your license, you need to know what you would do on the job and how much you can make.

What Will You Do on the Job?

PI is a simple term that refers to these investigators. As a PI, you can take on a number of different jobs every week. You might assist on cases when an individual went missing, do civil and criminal background checks on new employees before companies offer those workers jobs and do surveillance work. Surveillance work often involves keeping track of an individual and recording his or her movements via digital cameras or camcorders. If you own your own firm instead of working for a PI firm, you’re also responsible for hiring support staff, maintaining accurate records and filing your taxes every year.

Do You Need to Go to College?

Private investigation is one of the few fields that you can get started in without first going to college. You generally only need a high school diploma or an equivalent GED before going to work as a PI. Firms that hire these investigators though want to know that you have strong computer skills and can work with cameras and camcorders. Going to college and earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree though can help you in the future. You’ll develop better computer skills, learn more about human behavior and get help running your own PI firm or business.

PI Requirements

Before working as a private investigator, you need to make sure that you meet all the requirements put in place by the state. Many states require that you have a license, but several states will let you work as a PI once you have a business license. A business license lets you operate your firm as a business within your state. Other states require that a PI have at least two years of experience, which many accomplish by working for the police department or enlisting in the military. Your state may also require that you go through security training before taking on your first job.

Pay Scale and Outlook

Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes private detectives with investigators, it found that the median pay for professionals in this field is around $45,600 a year, which is nearly $22 an hour. The amount varies based on how much you charge, the number of clients you have and whether you work for an agency or firm. The outlook for those wanting to work as a private investigator is fairly good. The BLS estimates an average rate of growth in this field, which will mean more than 1,000 new jobs in the future.

Related Resource: Crime Lab Analyst

Becoming a private investigator lets you help your clients catch their partners cheating, find the best workers and find missing loved ones. A private investigator can work for a specialized firm or independently and may need a license to practice from the state.