Private Investigator Jobs: How to Start a Career in Investigations

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

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 the large number of potential positions, there are almost always openings for experienced detectives.

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.

Once you have the appropriate license and training, it is time to start your new career. First, start looking for available jobs in your area.  There are several options for conducting a job search:

First, you can begin with an online job search site such as Monster.com, CareerBuilder, or Indeed. Or, you can go directly to company websites and search through their jobs database. 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.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in private investigations, learn more about how to get licensed and where to go for training and development. See our other articles on Private Investigator Licensing, Investigation Services, and Private Eye Training.

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.

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, 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 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 information: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Private Detectives and Investigators, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm.

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

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