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Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Private Investigator

You have two options; you either work for a licensed private investigations agency or you go to work for yourself and obtain your own PI company license.
Each state has different background, education and experience requirements that may vary from simply attending a state-approved training course to pre-licensing education, exams, years of work experience and obtaining a sizable professional liability insurance policy with "errors and omissions" coverage.
 
The second consideration is training. As an owner of an established and well respected detective agency I get resumes all of the time; the first thing I look for before considering a candidate is to ask the question, "How has this person invested in themselves before asking me to invest in them?"
 
What if I do not have the minimum experience required by the state to obtain my own company license? How will I ever break into the industry?
 
If your goal is to eventually own your private investigations agency, no problem.
For example, in Texas where we hold an agency license those who are too new simply go to work for an established company until they have the required number of hours to be able apply for their own license.
Again, every state is a little bit different but thousands of successful private investigators are working today and tens of thousands have come before us; we all had to get started someplace.
 
Also, consider your own background and employment related experience carefully some of it may apply.
 
What type of training should I be looking into?
 
Any amount of training is great though most PI companies don't place a whole lot of credibility with the courses from PCDI, Harcourt, and Thompson Direct.
Instead, look for academies or training programs that have been created by private investigators. look to see that the sponsoring company is active in the industry as well. In reality, you will learn very little from those who could not make it themselves; success breeds success!
 
Lastly, I have a little secret I would like to share with you. This is a very tight-knit industry and you will find that students who complete training programs from educators that spend time "bad mouthing the competition" have a terrible time getting a break simply because of the animosity created through their educator's use of negative advertising.
This does not mean, however, that you should dismiss the negative press but the first thing an excellent private investigator learns is how to evaluate a claim, identify the source and make a judgment based on additional facts and research.
 
What is the difference between a private investigator and a private detective?
Nothing.
"I really just want to help my friends and family to find old friends or people who owe them money.
Generally speaking, in those states where it is a requirement you will need to obtain a license if you hold yourself out for hire or accept payment from another person or business and participate in or provide the following services:
 
- Surveillance
 
- Obtaining or furnish information related to a crime or the identity, habits, business, occupation, knowledge, movement, location, affiliations, associations,transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a person, group or company.
 
- Determining the cause or responsibility for a fire, libel, loss, accident, damage, or injury to a person or to property.
 
- Do I have to have a degree in Criminal Justice from a college or university?
 
No, though some states may accept a degree in Criminal Justice, Administration of Justice or Police Sciences in lieu of the minimum experience requirements.
If I do not have a college education do I have to have a background as a police officer or other law enforcement related profession?
No.
 
It is true that many private investigators may have once had a career in criminal justice but the bottom-line is that private investigation and law enforcement is very different and my experience has been that very few who make the transition from law enforcement are prepared for this type of work, either technically or creatively, on their own.
 
What type of person makes a successful private investigator?
This business requires a rare blend of logic and creativity; it's rare because logical people tend to not be very creative and vice-versa.
This means that he or she must have the ability to connect with people of all walks of life, regardless of economic status, ethnicity or education.
The end result of an investigation is the investigative report, which is given to the client upon conclusion of the assignment; this is essentially our work product.
 
Secondly, great investigators have a burning desire to answer any question that is put to them only after a careful and determined effort to identify the facts and circumstances that contribute to a complete and unbiased explanation.
Oftentimes in order to get to those facts, we must be relentless in our pursuit of information.
Dead-ends often only require a different approach!
 
Lastly, I believe that every investigator should possess a varied set of experiences and knowledge.
One of the most accomplished investigators I have ever met listed "Mom" on her resume.
I have personally hired a plumber, building contractor, car salesman, and a host of other seemingly unrelated career types into my own company, CompassPoint Investigations, because they had certain intangibles that made them great in this business!
 
The bottom line is that anyone can train to become a wildly successful private investigator, just like one can train to become a barber or an attorney, but an aspiring detective has to bring some things to the table that cannot be easily taught: creativity, logic, the ability to communicate and an insatiable curiosity!
 
I have a criminal conviction in my background from many years ago.
I believe that a felony conviction will be an automatic disqualification in almost every instance (though I know a felon who has a PI license issued by the city of Columbus, MO.
 
Will my military discharge affect my ability to become a private investigator?
In some cases a discharge that is anything but honorable may prevent you from becoming a PI.
Perhaps the Florida Division of Licensing put it best: "Private investigators and private investigative agencies serve in positions of trust.
The private investigative industry is regulated to ensure the interests of the public are adequately served and protected.
" This has been proven across the country time and time again and is a major topic of discussion in our upcoming private investigation marketing manual.
I will eventually briefly describe each type of investigation in the next couple of weeks.
 
What type of investigation or specialty assignment pays the most?
I don't know that anyone can answer that question definitively, but I will say that surveillance is typically the most lucrative type of assignment a private investigator can get because it is solid, billable, blocks of time.
I personally have made $10,000 in an hour on several occasions in 14 years doing bail fugitive recovery work, those types of paydays are few and far between.
It can be extremely dangerous, it is a very competitive field and you get paid only if you can complete the case.
We all have heard the stories of PIs getting caught while on surveillance by an irate cheating husband or being chased out of a yard at the business end of a shotgun while serving a subpoena.
Certainly, scary things can and do happen on rare occasions but like all war stories, the ones that seem to get a lot of attention play out more like fiction than reality.