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 permanent employees. 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 a License
If you have an interest in pursuing a career in this exciting field, it is important to first understand how to get a private investigator’s 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 pursuing 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 good companies.
First, start looking for available jobs in your area. There are several options for conducting a job search:
Private Investigator job openings are posted on the same job boards as any other job. 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:
- Indeed Job Search
- ZipRecruiter -I don’t recommend using ZipRecruiter. Ever. I signed up for a short period 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 scammers. They were trying to steal my personal information through fake recruiter emails. One would ask for my date of birth, the other the last four of my social, address, phone number, etc.
Leverage Social Networking
LinkedIn is one of the most effective ways to find employment. LinkedIn has the same jobs that are posted on 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 set up 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.
Visit 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.
Contact 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.
Consider Government Employment
Don’t forget to include the government boards in your search. The United States Government employs more than 2.7 million people worldwide. 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 background is clean. If necessary, run a check on yourself.
Work with 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 whether the headhunter will get a commission or fee. Sometimes, a job placement company will take a portion of your hourly rate. For example, a security guard job may pay the security company $30 an hour, but the on-site security guard only gets paid $20.
Private Investigator Salary Information
How much money does a private investigator earn?
Private Investigator salaries and earnings vary greatly by employer, investigative specialty, and geographic area. Many private eyes are self-employed and operate as independent small businesses. 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 from a single employer.
For self-employed people, 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 full-time employees of a law firm or investigation agency may have a salaried position that includes benefits.
If you are interested in becoming a private detective, or if you 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
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, the 2019 median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $50,510 per year, which is $24.28 per hour. The median wage is when half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,760.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for private detectives and investigators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Finance and insurance, $60,300
- Government, $60,120
- Investigation, guard, and armored car services, $45,530
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. Also, 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 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 median income level. In addition, these markets are filled with celebrities, who provide the opportunity to get involved with high-profile cases.
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