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How to Become a Private Investigator?

how to become a private investigator

We’ve all done it, right?

Watched a crime series or documentary on television and thought about becoming a private investigator (PI). The truth is, a private investigator’s job is not all about searching for bad guys as it may seem on our TV favorite shows.

Maybe not glamorous, but necessary…

A private investigator does a lot of researching and other tedious work too. Often involving going through countless files and background checks for the most uninteresting of cases.

However, they can be instrumental in solving cases of missing family members as well as tracking down people who owe money. A PI needs the skills and tools to find a needle in a haystack.

So, if you are wondering how to become a private investigator, then read on. But first, let’s look at exactly what type of investigations you will be conducting should you choose this career.

how to become a private investigator

Common Types of Investigations a PI Performs

Finding a missing person is one of the most common reasons for hiring a PI. Some missing people, however, do not want to be found, making the job more difficult.

Below are some examples of the types of missing person cases you would likely come across in your work:

  • A tenant who owes rent money or has damaged a person’s property.
  • A former spouse who has failed to pay child support.
  • Contractors who have disappeared without completing a job.
  • Somebody who has been named in a will or a life insurance beneficiary.
  • Separated family members looking to reunite.
  • A person suspected of criminal behavior.
  • Someone who has committed fraud.

Background checks often need to be conducted for the following reasons.

  • When someone is starting a new job, and the employer needs more information.
  • Custody disputes, where one partner needs evidence of the other’s wrongdoing to help with their case.
  • Potential business partners to develop trust in one another before committing financially to an agreement.
  • To assist with criminal investigations.

How Do You Get Into the Private Investigation Profession?

Firstly, you will need to have a license to operate as a private investigator. This can be on a state level or local to your town or district. You will then have to attend classes and pass a private investigator licensing exam.

The exam will include questions on criminal laws, state and federal regulations, court preparation, and private investigator procedures and protocols.

Education is important…

Private investigators need a high school diploma as a minimum requirement. Furthermore, some employers prefer you to have a few years of experience in law enforcement or the military.

While not a necessity, a degree in criminal justice will go a long way in boosting your chances of getting into the profession.

How Much Do Private Investigators Earn?

On average, the salary of a private investigator is $25.73 per hour. But, this will depend on your level of experience and education.

As part of the vetting process, you will need to pass a background check and have your fingerprints submitted to a federal database. Once you have one, it is important to maintain and renew your PI license so it does not expire.

how to become private investigators

What are the Minimum Requirements?

  • Need to be 18 years or older to apply for a license.
  • Have to be a US citizen or legal resident.
  • Must not have been convicted of a felony in any jurisdiction.
  • Cannot have been dishonorably discharged from the military.
  • Need to have a high school diploma.

What Qualities Do Good Private Investigators Have?

  • They have excellent communication skills. They need to be able to listen carefully and take in every detail possible when interviewing people.
  • Patience is a key factor. You may have to wait for leads and search through hours of surveillance footage before you find what you are looking for.
  • Honesty and trustworthiness because PIs often deal with confidential information.
  • Good decision-making skills.
  • They need a good sense of intuition and to trust their ‘gut’ when something seems off.

Perks of Being a Private Investigator

  • Every day is different. You will have a variety of cases to work on in diverse fields and will learn new skills daily.
  • You will have some control over your career. For example, you can choose whether to specialize in a certain field, like investigating for insurance firms or attorneys.
  • As a self-employed private investigator, you can choose the amount of work you do. And, you can decide on your fees. If you work for an organization, this freedom may be limited somewhat, but the pay is usually good.
  • The work is challenging and offers a great deal of job satisfaction when a case is solved, or relevant information is found to help others. Righting the wrongs of society can be enormously fulfilling.
  • You can work independently. This is ideal if you prefer working alone or dislike strict 9-5 work environments.
  • It is a good second career. Retired military officers and members of the police force often learn how to become a private investigator as they have the necessary experience and skills for the job.

Online Courses

There are online private investigator courses available if you prefer remote studying. Examples are social media investigation or surveillance and fraud for investigators. These courses are offered by NITA and can be completed in your own time.

Also, they offer licensing exam preparation courses for most states. These courses are affordable and worth doing if you want to keep expanding your knowledge and skills.

Active Training

As a private investigator, you may need to carry a weapon for self-defense, but this will depend on which state you will be working in.

If you carry a firearm, it is vital to get trained by an expert on how to use it effectively and safely. You can also use other non-lethal weapons like tasers, stun guns, and chemical sprays.

Thinking of a New Career?

We can help. Take a look at our handy articles on How to Become an FBI Profiler, How To Become A Police Officer, How to Become a Correctional Officer, How to Become a Firefighter, How to Become a Paramedic, and How to Become a Lawyer for more useful information on starting a new career.

Is your dream job a PI? If so, check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, A Manual of Private Investigation Techniques, How to Start a Private Investigation Business, and Introduction to Conducting Private Investigations, all of which you can buy online in 2023.

You may also enjoy the Practical Handbook for Professional Investigators, Private Investigating Study Guide, Private Investigator Exam Secrets Study Guide, Contracts For Private Investigators, and The Private Investigator’s Licensing Handbook for more PI information.


There are many ways to become a private investigator. Simply research the procedure for doing so in your jurisdiction and follow it accordingly. All states require you to have a license, but the experience and level of education needed may vary with different firms or law enforcement institutions.

Overall, it is a job that takes a great deal of commitment and long hours. But, it can be hugely rewarding if you have what it takes to make a success of it.

Good luck, and I wish you the very best in your career as a Private Investigator.

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