How to Become a Private Investigator: Skills, Salary, and Job Outlook (2023)

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Several paths can lead to a career as a private investigator (PI). Typically, the best candidates have previous work experience in law enforcement, law enforcement or the military, but aspiring private investigators can also take other steps to open up and increase job opportunities in this field.

This article describes how to become a private investigator, including general education, training, licensure, and work experience requirements. We also provide an overview of the key skills needed to excel in this role.


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What is a private detective?

Private detective clients include individuals, attorneys, companies and organizations. Their services can range from collecting and analyzing critical information about personal, financial and legal matters to performing background checks, helping to locate missing persons and conducting surveillance.

The day-to-day duties of a private detective can vary greatly depending on the case. Typical tasks might include:

  • make an interview
  • Thoroughly search computer databases, public records and other resources to gather critical information for investigations, missing persons and other cases
  • Conduct personal background checks such as B. Pre-employment assessments to gain relevant information about an individual's personal history and financial situation
  • Collection and analysis of evidence for clients.
  • Writing case reports or summaries

How to become an IP

Depending on the jurisdiction and state you work in, the steps to becoming a private investigator may vary. It is important to research state-specific requirements for private investigators to determine the best course of action. However, most IPs follow the following to further their careers.

get an education

Each state sets its own requirements for PIs; However, most employers require applicants to have at least a high school diploma or GED certificate. It is becoming more common for employers to require candidates to retain or hire an employeeBachelor of Criminal Law, criminal law, criminology, political science or a comparable discipline.

Completion of post-secondary education and a degree in a relevant field can help you broaden your job opportunities as a PI.

full training

Working as an IP requires a variety of skills, which is why education is an essential part of this profession. Many employers offer on-the-job training. Training requirements may vary depending on the position and your previous work experience. Training can include:

  • Techniques and procedures for conducting interviews.
  • Strategies for collecting and evaluating evidence
  • Accident scene reconstruction methods.
  • surveillance techniques

gain experience

Gaining relevant hands-on experience can help aspiring private investigators develop the skills needed to successfully perform the day-to-day tasks of this role. Most public investigators have training or previous work experience in the legal, police or military fields.

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Enrolling in a criminal justice, criminal law, or criminology program can help aspiring PIs gain fundamental knowledge and skills for this profession. Some programs offer internship opportunities that allow students to gain hands-on experience.

purchase license

Each state has its own licensing requirements for private investigators. Most states require PIs to be licensed, which usually means they must meet certain educational and work experience criteria and pass an exam.

consider certification

While private investigator certifications are not required for this career, certification can help validate your skills and knowledge. Below are two options for professional credentials that private investigators can screen.

Certified Legal Investigator (CLI)®

Der National Associate of Legal Research(NALI) offers the Certified Legal Investigator certification. The CLI is a professional board certification that validates the knowledge, skills, and experience of private investigators through rigorous exams, oral ethics tests, testimonials, role-plays, and white paper authoring. To become a CLI, candidates must meet the following requirements:

  • Be employed by public defense offices, law firms or private investigation firms.
  • Meet your state's licensing requirements.
  • At least five years of professional experience as a legal investigator. Alternatively, applicants may replace one year of work by completing 90 hours quarterly or 60 hours semester at an accredited university or college.
  • Submit a white paper on any research topic. The work must have a minimum of 1,000 words. Candidates must submit the white paper at least 30 days before the exam.
  • Submit the fee and application no later than 30 days before the exam.
  • Agree to earn continuing education credits and submit compliance reports.

you can visitNALI CLI Application Pagefor the latest certification requirements.

Certified Professional Investigator (PCI)®

ASIS Internationaloffers the Certified Professional Investigator certification, which demonstrates certifiable knowledge and specialized skills in security investigations. These skills include case assessment and management strategies, the ability to gather valuable information through surveillance, interview techniques and questioning strategies.

Eligibility requirements for PCI certification include:

  • Three to five years of investigative experience (depending on your educational level) and two years of case management experience
  • Full-time employment in a security-related position
  • Have not been convicted of any crime that reflects negatively on the profession, organization and certification program.
  • Sign and agree to complyCode of Conduct for ASIS Certification
  • You agree to adhere to the ASIS Certification Programs guidelines found onASIS International Council Certification Guide

you can visitASIS Eligibility Requirements Pagefor the latest information on PCI certification requirements.

To become certified, you must pass the PCI exam, which consists of 125 multiple-choice questions. The exam can also contain 15 pretest questions that are not scored randomly, creating a total of 140 exam questions. Examinees have 2.5 hours to complete the exam, which covers tasks, skills and knowledge in three main areas: case management, investigation techniques and procedures, and case presentation.

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HePCI Exam Content Overviewprovides an overview of the specific tasks and knowledge areas of the exam.

Essential Skills for Private Investigators

Private detectives require a variety of skills, including hard and soft skills. The following are just a few basic skills IPs need to fulfill the role requirements.


Written and verbal communication is an integral part of private investigation work. PIs must conduct interviews, speak with relatives of missing persons, work with police and other law enforcement professionals, and present their findings in court, all of which require strong verbal communication skills. It is crucial that IPs ask concise, direct questions and actively listen during these processes.

In addition to communicating clearly and effectively, PIs must ensure that they are considerate and compassionate to people who may be experiencing difficult situations.

Private investigators are also responsible for documenting investigations, including writing and filing detailed case reports.


Private investigations involve many processes and procedures that require constant effort, perseverance and patience. These processes can increase the length of an investigation. While a PI's instinct is to resolve an assigned case as quickly as possible, generating leads, conducting surveillance, collecting and analyzing hard evidence, and resolving cases can take time.


IPs have access to a variety of resources. They must make full use of the information and tools at their disposal, such as public databases of driving records and criminal records, to resolve cases efficiently.

legal knowledge

It is essential that private investigators have a solid basic knowledge of local, state and federal laws. Since private investigators are not considered law enforcement agencies, it is important to understand the legal parameters and limitations that apply to ensure that you do not violate criminal or privacy laws. If evidence is collected illegally, a court can reject and even prosecute it.

Computer skills

Private detectives use computers, surveillance devices, GPS trackers and other technology in their daily work. IPs often have to browse databases and databases to gather relevant information and evidence.

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Salary and job prospects of private detectives.

HeUS Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) reports that the median salary for private investigators is $59,380 per year. The BLS predicts that private detective and investigator job opportunities will increase by 6% from 2021 to 2031.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Becoming a Private Investigator

Can you make a lot of money as a private detective?

The BLS puts the median annual salary for private investigators at $59,380. Many IPs are self-employed, which allows them to negotiate their salaries with their clients. Several factors can affect salary, including location, educational level, certifications and work experience.

How long does it take to become a private investigator in California?

It can take at least two to four years to become a private investigator in California. This schedule covers the three years of paid work experience required for qualification.California Private Investigator Licenseor the time it takes to earn onelegal studieso Licentiate in Political Sciences.


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