Private Investigator Jobs and Salary Information

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Private Investigator Jobs
How much money does a private investigator earn?

This article provides an overview of private investigator jobs and investigation-related positions. In addition, it includes information on average salaries as well as advice on how to find a job.

Private Investigator Jobs

Although most private investigators work in the private sector, companies in every industry, both large and small, hire private investigators to perform a variety of jobs. Some businesses hire P.I.’s on a short term basis, to investigate a specific project or series of tasks.

Examples include: conducting an investigation into an incident that occurred on company property, investigating claims made by employees, or looking into a burglary or theft. Businesses often hire their own detective to dig deeper and find more information than the typical law enforcement investigation.

Other companies hire P.I.’s into full-time, salaried positions to serve as a permanent employee. Examples of these positions include performing background checks for current and new employees, investigating internal loss or theft, coordinating internal investigations or serving as a member of the corporate security team.

Due to the wide range of companies and a large number of potential positions, there are almost always openings for experienced detectives.

Get Licensed

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this exciting field, it is important to first understand how to get a private investigator license. In addition, you’ll want to look into the training and education requirements for the investigative field in which you plan to specialize.

If you’re interested in pursing a career in the industry, but you have yet to obtain a license, we recommend checking out The Private Investigator’s Licensing Handbook: How to Get a Private Investigator License in any State available on Amazon.com.

Starting Your Job Search

Once you have the appropriate license and training and education, it is time to start your new career. Before you start looking for open positions:

  • Prepare a resume and a cover letter. You’ll need to include both along with an application for almost every position.
  • Have a clear understanding of your background. You should be able to explain any gaps in employment.
  • Be prepared to accept an entry-level position. You shouldn’t expect to start at the top. If you have a degree in a relevant field such as criminal justice, you may earn a little more.
  • Consider whether you’d be open to an internship. An internship may be paid or unpaid and may be a way to get your foot in the door with a good company.

First, start looking for available jobs in your area. There are several options for conducting a job search:

Job Boards

Private Investigator job openings are posted on the same job boards like any other jobs. If you want to find a job as a private investigator, I recommend that you start there. Here are links to the major job boards:

  • CareerBuilder
  • Indeed Job Search
  • Monster
  • ZipRecruiter (Personally, I don’t recommend using ZipRecruiter. Ever. I signed up for a short period of time to check out the service. Their “job matching” technology never matched me with a relevant job. Also, I received “hot job” emails that had nothing to do with anything on my resume. In addition, I received a constant string of emails from recruiters who were clearly scammers. They were clearly trying to steal my personal information through a series of fake recruiter emails. One would ask for my date of birth, the other the last four of my social, address, phone number, etc.

Social Networking

LinkedIn is one of the most effective ways to find employment. LinkedIn has the same jobs that are posted on the major job sites. What sets LinkedIn apart is you can quickly determine if any of your contacts work at that company.

Having a contact at the company could help you get your foot in the door. In addition, applying for jobs can sometimes be done by submitting your profile, saving you a lot of time in the application process.

If you’re not on LinkedIn yet, I highly recommend that you setup a profile and start networking. It is important to make connections both inside and outside the investigation industry. Not only will it help you land your first job, but it will also help you network with other P.I.’s to get jobs in the future.

Company Websites

In addition to the job boards, companies often post notices of job openings on their company website. If you know of an investigation company in your area, check their website and visit either the “Career” or “Jobs” section. 

Private Investigators and Investigation Agencies

Many of the open positions will be independent private investigation agencies. You’ll find a list of investigation agencies in your area in our Directory. To get started, navigate to the state where you plan to look for openings. Review the list and the individual listings. Contact the agency directly to inquire about any openings. If there is an opening, explain what you’re looking for and why you’re qualified. Ask for an interview.

Government Employment

Don’t forget to include the government boards in your search. The United State Government employs more than 2.7 million people all over the world. There are many investigation-related positions in federal law enforcement, intelligence agencies, military, etc. Government positions will have higher standards for employment, so make sure your personal background is clean. If necessary run a check on yourself.

Headhunters and Recruiters

A more expensive alternative is to use a job search service or recruiter, sometimes known as a headhunter. While a headhunter can be a big help in landing the right job, always be aware of whom you are dealing with, and understand the terms of the deal.

It is key to clearly understand if the headhunter will get a commission or some type of fee. In some cases, a job placement company will take a portion of the hourly rate you are paid. For example, a security guard job may pay the security company $30 an hour, but the actual security guard on site only gets paid $20 an hour.


Private Investigator Salary Information

How much money does a private investigator earn?

Private Investigator salary and earnings vary greatly by employer, investigative specialty, and geographic area. Many private eyes are self-employed and operate as an independent small business. As a result, they typically do not earn a regular paycheck or salary. In addition, independent P.I.’s usually don’t get benefits and insurance provided by a single employer.

For those who are self-employed, the pay is usually associated with the job and varies greatly from a flat fee to an hourly wage. Both forms of payment are always negotiable. It is wise to negotiate based on the amount of risk involved, with higher pay for greater levels of risk.

Payment usually includes reimbursement for expenses incurred during the case. Examples of expenses incurred are gas/mileage, hotel stays, equipment rental, fees associated with reports or legal documents, notary fees, etc.

Detectives who work for a corporation or as a full-time employee of a law firm or investigation agency may have a salaried position that includes benefits.

If you are interested in becoming a private detective and are in the process of researching the salary of a private investigator, we recommend that you take the following steps:

  • Contact several P.I.’s and agencies in your local area and inquire about the approximate annual salary, hourly rates, the type of expenses they incur, etc.
  • Do a Google search for the keywords
  • Use online salary research companies such as Salary.com to determine the most likely private investigator salary in your area

Salary Data

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, in May 2016, the median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $48,190. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,070 in income.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for private detectives and investigators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • Finance and insurance $54,850
  • Government, $49,480
  • Investigation, guard, and armored car services, $48,250
  • Retail trade, $34,460

Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because they conduct surveillance and contact people outside of normal work hours. They may work early mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays. In addition, they may have to work outdoors or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather, depending on the purpose of the investigation.

Source of salary and income information: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Private Detectives and Investigators, on the Internet. The average salary fluctuates from year to year, so be sure to check for updates.

Generally speaking, the profession is not highly paid. Agencies in high-volume markets such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles may command higher pay due to the higher level of median income. In addition, these markets are filled with celebrities, who provide the opportunity to get involved with high profile cases.

Additional Information

View our database of investigators from all over the world

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Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including eInvestigator.com. Michael created eInvestigator.com more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at Amazon.com.

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