Tips for Becoming a Licensed Private Detective

Tips for Becoming a Licensed Private Detective

Private investigators and detectives, using techniques such as surveillance, databases searches, personal interviews, background checks, gather evidence and verify facts about individuals or companies.

Private detectives and investigators may provide assistance in civil liability and personal injury cases, insurance claims and fraud, child custody and protection cases, martial infidelity cases and premarital screening.

They also offer pre-employment verification and executive, corporate, and celebrity protection. Detectives may make phone calls or visit a subject’s workplace to verify facts. In missing persons and background check cases, investigators often interview people to gather as much information as possible about an individual.

Private investigators work for attorneys, insurance companies, businesses and the general public; they may be on staff at a large corporation or be self-employed. Their duties include gathering information for clients, locating missing persons, conducting surveillance, and doing background investigations for court cases.

Private Investigator: Training & Education

While there are no academic requirements for this field, a 2-year associate’s program or a 4-year bachelor’s program in a criminal justice-related area is helpful to aspiring private detectives and investigators. Most corporate investigators must have a bachelor’s degree and some corporate investigators have master’s degrees in business administration or law. Corporate investigators hired by large companies may receive formal training from their employers on business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics. For information, visit our Private Detective Training section.

Licensing & Certification

Most states require private detectives and investigators to be licensed. Requirements vary widely, but convicted felons cannot receive a license.  For example – In California, detectives and investigators must be at least 18 years of age; have a combination of education in police science, criminal law, or justice, and three years (6,000 hours) of investigative experience; pass an evaluation by the Federal Department of Justice and a criminal history background check; pass a state examination covering laws and regulations; and meet requirements for a firearms permit.

There are many organizations that certify investigators. The National association of Legal Investigators (NALI) confers the title Certified Legal Investigator to licensed investigators who specialize in negligence or criminal defense investigation and meet experience, education, and continuing training requirements. For more information visit our Licensing section.

Private Investigator: Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries of detectives and investigators ranged between $20,040 and $38,240. According to a study by Abbott, Langer & Associates, security/loss prevention directors and vice presidents had a median income of $77,500 per year in 2000; investigators, $39,800; and store detectives, $25,000.


 1.  Realize that many people in this field have a military or law enforcement background. Others have college degrees in business, criminal justice or political science. They are your competition for jobs.

2.  Enroll in a detective school if you don’t have any of the experience listed above. You’ll be taught the skills that a private investigator needs to have, including how to fingerprint, take samples of evidence, write reports and use firearms.

3.  Polish your writing skills. This is one of the most important things you can do to ensure success. You’ll need to write reports frequently and they must be of professional quality.

4.  Become proficient at using credit checks and computer searching resources, such as Lexis-Nexis. They’ll be a large part of your work, and this skill can be your entry into working for a firm.

5. Apply for your private investigator’s license if one is required in your state. Your local police department or a local detective agency can tell you which government division handles this.

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