What Does it Take to Become a Private Investigator?
As a Private Investigator, or PI, you will enter a fast-growing field that offers excellent pay for full or part-time hours and exciting, diverse career opportunities.
As a PI, you have the opportunity to create a career that reflects your interests and strengths. Even better, if you have previous experience in a related field such as law enforcement or the military, your skills will come in handy in your PI work as well.
So what does it take to become a Private Investigator? In this post, learn what it takes to launch a new career as a Private Investigator.
First, You Need to Qualify for Your Private Investigator License
Your first step should be to find out what the requirements are to work as a Private Investigator in your local area. Most states require you to be licensed. Even in states that do not require a license, it is still possible the local city or county may require a license.
Getting licensed typically requires obtaining relevant education and/or completing a certain minimum number of PI training hours.
The good news here is, if you do have prior career experience in a related field, those hours already worked may count towards your total training hours requirement for earning your PI license.
This can also make becoming a Private Investigator a great second career if you are transitioning out of a related field, because you may already have both the education and the minimum number of training hours you need to qualify for your PI license!
If you do not have related work experience or you are just starting your career, one of the best ways to qualify for your Private Investigator license is through a combination of earning a degree and completing a certain number of training hours.
Best Types of Education for a PI Career
There are three types of degrees that may be a good fit depending on the licensing requirements in your area:
- Certificate. Typically a 12-month or shorter program
- Associate’s degree. Typically a 24-month or shorter program
- Bachelor’s degree. Typically a 48-month or shorter program
Similarly, each of these fields of study can provide the necessary education to support you in launching your PI career:
- Criminal justice
- Emergency management
- Criminal law
- Political science
- Computer forensics
- Private investigation (many certificate courses exist today)
Match Your Degree to Your Career Interests
As concerns about personal privacy, data security and interpersonal connections continue to grow, Private Investigators are increasingly needed in diverse fields.
Here are just a few examples of how it can make sense to tailor the degree you choose to the career path you would most like to pursue:
- The rise of computer crime and identity theft has fueled a demand for PIs in the field of cyber crime, law enforcement, government and insurance
- Ongoing money laundering, tax evasion and accounting fraud has increased demand for Private Investigators in the corporate, business and legal sectors
- In the private sector, litigation for divorce, alimony, trusts, estate settlements and similar issues now keep PIs busy researching and supporting the resolution of disputes
Prepare for Your Licensing Exam
In some states, you may be required to take a training course before you can take your licensing exam and qualify for your Private Investigator license.
Typically, such courses will be anywhere from 40 to 60 hours and cover a wide range of topics including investigative methods, legal requirements, privacy laws, ethics and security.
Whether your state requires you to take such a course or not, choosing to do so can give you great preparation for taking your licensing exam, which may expect you to know detailed information about state and federal laws, criminal and civil court due process, privacy rights and investigative methods.
Take Your Licensing Exam
Once you have earned your degree and completed any additional training hours required in your state, you will be eligible to take the PI licensing exam. Passing this exam will give you a license to work as a Private Investigator, either as part of an existing company or by launching your own PI firm.