There are a number of paths to becoming a Private Investigator just as there are a number of different types of work that PI’s do. Some PI’s do a broad variety of work, while others specialize in a very narrow field. Some work for themselves, while others work for large companies and corporations. Meanwhile, others regularly work in the field doing background checks and surveillance, while other PI’s never leave their desk. There are, however, a number of general ways to become a PI depending on your background and experience.
1) Before you Start your Career
Probably the best way to enter the field is to get a two or four-year degree in a subject such as criminal law, criminal justice, or police science. Other degrees can also be helpful, depending on what type of investigation you want to do. For instance, an accounting degree or certification is very helpful if you want to be a forensic accountant or corporate investigator.
Another reason why a degree is helpful, is that it cuts down on the mandatory hours that most states require in obtaining a Private Investigator license. When you have a degree in a related field, this can often cut a few thousand hours off the necessary work experience hours. In California, for instance, having a 4-year degree in Police Science can eliminate up to 2,000 required experience hours.
2) Making a Mid-Career Change
It’s not always necessary to get a specific degree to become a PI, but if you want to make a mid-career change, you may have to be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up. Many established agencies will offer anything from freelance or contract work to entry level positions for people with little to no experience. In either case, the pay will most likely not be great and benefits may be few and far between, but the hours you work will all contribute to helping you get your license. Once you have your license, you can branch out on your own or obtain a better paying position. Work in other fields can also help you get your license, such as law enforcement, military police work, claims adjustment, or debt collection.
3) End of Career
Many people that worked in law enforcement or related fields choose to become Private Investigator’s after they retire from their original field. Since military and law enforcement retirement is often based on years of service rather than age, many people are still relatively young when they retire. When people retire from working in related fields such as law enforcement, investigative journalism, claims adjustment or debt collection – they can often simply take the test to get their license, since they will have already amassed the necessary work experience hours.