Becoming a private investigator doesn't require years of formal education, but some P.I.s and corporate private investigators may have studied criminal justice or a related subject at a university, college, or private investigator trade school.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports that though investigators often learn job skills through work-related training, much of the work performed by private investigators comes from previous experience in law enforcement, military or federal intelligence work. Private investigators often specialize in a particular field, such as insurance fraud or computer forensics. Continuing education -- which may be found at private investigator trade schools -- is a key component of staying ahead of changing technologies, the BLS reports.
Private investigator specializations
Private investigators may seek work in many different areas, including the following:
- Legal investigators gather evidence and help defense or prosecuting attorneys prepare for cases
- Insurance investigators gather evidence for insurance companies when fraud is suspected
- Corporate and financial investigators assist companies with investigations into theft, assets and more
- Computer forensic investigators search through data stored on computers for evidence
Since much of the work done by private investigators has migrated to computer-based research, P.I.s should be highly proficient in performing searches and navigating lengthy databases.
Certifications and degrees
Some private investigation jobs require associate's or bachelor's degrees, the BLS reports. P.I.s working as computer forensic experts may have bachelor's degrees in computer science or criminal justice, while corporate investigators may have formal education in business, finance, accounting or management, the BLS notes.
Most states require private investigators to be licensed -- and P.I.s who choose to carry handguns or firearms have to meet additional requirements.
Private investigator salary and career outlook
According to the BLS, private detectives and investigators earned national median annual salaries of $46,250 in 2013. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned up to $30,330, while the highest-paid 10 percent earned at least $83,600. More than half of the 25,820 private investigators employed in 2013 worked for investigation and security services firms. Populous states -- New York, California, Florida -- were top employers of private investigators.
The field is expected to grow by 11 percent, or 3,300 new positions, from 2012 through 2022, the BLS reports. The prevalence of cyber crimes and increasing need to conduct thorough background checks to vet potential employees are main drivers of job growth. People interested in a career as a private investigator may wish to learn more about private investigator programs.
Private Detectives and Investigators, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339021.htm
Private Detectives and Investigators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm