Private Detectives and Investigators

Summary

private detectives and investigators image
Private detectives and investigators obtain information for clients.
Quick Facts: Private Detectives and Investigators
2015 Median Pay $45,610 per year
$21.93 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation Less than 5 years
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 34,900
Job Outlook, 2014-24 5% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 1,800

What Private Detectives and Investigators Do

Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

Work Environment

Private detectives and investigators work in many places, depending on their assignment or case. Some spend more time in offices, doing computer searches, while others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews and performing surveillance. They often work irregular hours. Nearly 1 in 4 were self-employed in 2014.

How to Become a Private Detective or Investigator

Private detectives and investigators mostly need several years of work experience in law enforcement or the military. Workers also must have a high school diploma, and the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license.

Pay

The median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $45,610 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for private detectives and investigators will stem from security concerns and from the need to protect confidential information. Strong competition can be expected for jobs.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for private detectives and investigators.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of private detectives and investigators with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about private detectives and investigators by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Private Detectives and Investigators Do About this section

Private detectives and investigators
Private detectives must properly collect and document evidence so that it may be used in a court of law.

Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

Duties

Private detectives and investigators typically do the following:

  • Interview people to gather information
  • Search public or court records to uncover clues 
  • Conduct surveillance
  • Collect evidence to present in court or to a client
  • Verify employment and income
  • Check for civil judgments and criminal history
  • Investigate computer crimes and information theft

Private detectives and investigators offer many services for individuals, attorneys, and businesses. Examples are performing background checks, investigating employees for possible theft from a company, proving or disproving infidelity in a divorce case, and helping to locate a missing person.

Private detectives and investigators use a variety of tools when researching the facts in a case. Much of their work is done with a computer, allowing them to obtain information such as telephone numbers, details about social networks, descriptions of online activities, and records of a person’s prior arrests. They make phone calls to verify facts and interview people when conducting a background investigation.

Investigators may go undercover to observe people and to obtain information.

Detectives also conduct surveillance when investigating a case. They may watch locations, such as a person’s home or office, often from a hidden position. Using cameras and binoculars, detectives gather information on people of interest.

Detectives and investigators must be mindful of the law when conducting investigations. Because they lack police authority, their work must be done with the same authority as a private citizen. As a result, they must have a good understanding of federal, state, and local laws, such as privacy laws, and other legal issues affecting their work. Otherwise, evidence they collect may not be useable in court and they could face prosecution.

The following are examples of types of private detectives and investigators:

Computer forensics investigators specialize in recovering, analyzing, and presenting information from computers to be used as evidence. Many focus on recovering deleted emails and documents. 

Legal investigators help prepare criminal defenses, verify facts in civil lawsuits, locate witnesses, and serve legal documents. They often work for lawyers and law firms.

Corporate investigators conduct internal and external investigations for corporations. Internally, they may investigate drug use in the workplace or ensure that expense accounts are not abused. Externally, they may try to identify and stop criminal schemes, such as fraudulent billing by a supplier.

Financial investigators may be hired to collect financial information on individuals and companies attempting to make large financial transactions. These investigators are often certified public accountants (CPAs) who work closely with investment bankers and other accountants. Investigators might search for assets to recover damages awarded by a court in fraud and theft cases.

Work Environment About this section

Private detectives and investigators
Many investigators spend time away from their desks while conducting surveillance in the field.

Private detectives and investigators held about 34,900 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most private detectives and investigators were as follows:

Investigation, guard, and armored car services 30%
Government 7
Finance and insurance 6
Retail trade 6

Nearly 1 in 4 private detectives and investigators were self-employed in 2014.

Private detectives and investigators work in many environments, depending on the case. Some spend more time in offices, performing computer searches and making phone calls. Others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews or performing surveillance.

Although investigators often work alone, some work with others while conducting surveillance or carrying out large, complicated assignments. 

Some of the work can involve confrontation, and some situations may call for the investigator to be armed. In most cases, however, a weapon is not necessary because private detectives and investigators’ purpose is to gather information, not to enforce laws or apprehend criminals.

Private detectives and investigators may have to work with demanding, and sometimes distraught, clients.

Work Schedules

Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because they conduct surveillance and contact people outside of normal work hours. They may work early mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays.

In addition, they may have to work outdoors or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather, depending on what the subject of the investigation is doing.

How to Become a Private Detective or Investigator About this section

Private detectives and investigators
Although most learn on the job, many people entering this field have a law enforcement background.

Private detectives and investigators typically need several years of work experience in law enforcement or the military. Workers must also have a high school diploma, and the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license.

Education

Education requirements vary greatly with the job, but most jobs require a high school diploma. Some, though, may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a field such as criminal justice or police science. 

Corporate investigators typically need a bachelor’s degree. Often, coursework in finance, accounting, and business is preferred. Because many financial investigators have an accounting background, they typically have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field and may be certified public accountants (CPAs). 

Computer forensics investigators often need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or criminal justice. Some colleges and universities now offer certificate programs in computer forensics, and others offer a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.

Training

Most private detectives and investigators learn through on-the-job experience, often lasting several years.

Although new investigators must learn how to gather information, additional training depends on the type of firm that hires them. For instance, at an insurance company, a new investigator will learn on the job how to recognize insurance fraud. Corporate investigators hired by large companies may receive formal training in business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics. 

Because computer forensics specialists need to both use computers and possess investigative skills, extensive training may be required. Many learn their trade while working for a law enforcement agency for several years. At work, they are taught how to gather evidence and spot computer-related crimes.

Continuing education is important for computer forensics investigators because they work with changing technologies. Investigators must learn the latest methods of fraud detection and new software programs. Many accomplish this task by attending conferences and courses offered by software vendors and professional associations.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Private detectives and investigators typically must have previous work experience, usually in law enforcement, the military, or federal intelligence. Those in such jobs, who are frequently able to retire after 20 or 25 years of service, may become private detectives or investigators in a second career.

Other private detectives and investigators previously may have worked for insurance or collections companies, as paralegals, in finance, or in accounting.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license. Requirements vary with the state. Professional Investigator Magazine has links to each state’s licensing requirements. Because laws often change, jobseekers should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with the state and locality in which they want to work.

In most states, detectives and investigators who carry handguns must meet additional requirements.

Although there are no licenses specific to computer forensics investigators, some states require them to be licensed private investigators. Even in states and localities where they are not required to be licensed, having a private investigator license is useful because it allows computer forensics investigators to perform related investigative work. 

Candidates may also obtain certification, although it is not required for employment. Still, becoming certified through professional organizations can demonstrate competence and may help candidates advance in their careers.

For investigators who specialize in negligence or criminal defense investigation, the National Association of Legal Investigators offers the Certified Legal Investigator certification. For investigators who specialize in security, ASIS International offers the Professional Certified Investigator certification.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Private detectives and investigators must listen carefully and ask appropriate questions when interviewing a person of interest.

Decisionmaking skills. Private detectives and investigators must be able to think on their feet and make quick decisions, based on the limited information that they have at a given time.

Inquisitiveness. Private detectives and investigators must want to ask questions and search for the truth.

Patience. Private detectives and investigators may have to spend long periods conducting surveillance while waiting for an event to occur. Investigations may take a long time, and they may not provide a resolution quickly—or at all.

Resourcefulness. Private detectives and investigators must work persistently with whatever leads they have, no matter how limited, to determine the next step toward their goal. They sometimes need to anticipate what a person of interest will do next.

Pay About this section

Private Detectives and Investigators

Median annual wages, May 2015

Private detectives and investigators

$45,610

Protective service occupations

$37,730

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $45,610 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,920, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $85,190.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for private detectives and investigators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $49,540
Finance and insurance 48,950
Investigation, guard, and armored car services 44,480
Retail trade 33,180

Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because they conduct surveillance and contact people outside of normal work hours. They may work early mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays. In addition, they may have to work outdoors or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather, depending on what the subject of the investigation is doing.

Job Outlook About this section

Private Detectives and Investigators

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Private detectives and investigators

5%

Protective service occupations

4%

 

Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Technological advances have led to an increase in cybercrimes, such as identity theft, credit card fraud, and spamming. Internet scams, as well as other types of financial and insurance fraud, create demand for investigative services, particularly by the legal services industry.

Background checks will continue to be a source of work for many investigators, because both employers and personal contacts wish to verify a person’s credibility.

Job Prospects

Strong competition for jobs can be expected because private detective and investigator careers attract many qualified people, including relatively young retirees from law enforcement and the military.

The best job opportunities will be for entry-level positions in detective agencies. Candidates with related work experience, as well as those with strong interviewing skills and familiarity with computers, may find more job opportunities than others.

Employment projections data for private detectives and investigators, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Private detectives and investigators

33-9021 34,900 36,700 5 1,800 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of private detectives and investigators.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Accountants and auditors

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records. They ensure that financial records are accurate and that taxes are paid properly and on time. Accountants and auditors assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently.

Bachelor's degree $67,190
Bill and account collectors

Bill and Account Collectors

Bill and account collectors try to recover payment on overdue bills. They negotiate repayment plans with debtors and help them find solutions to make paying their overdue bills easier.

High school diploma or equivalent $34,440
Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators

Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators

Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators evaluate insurance claims. They decide whether an insurance company must pay a claim, and if so, how much.

See How to Become One $63,060
Financial analysts

Financial Analysts

Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions. They assess the performance of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments.

Bachelor's degree $80,310
Financial examiners

Financial Examiners

Financial examiners ensure compliance with laws governing financial institutions and transactions. They review balance sheets, evaluate the risk level of loans, and assess bank management.

Bachelor's degree $78,010
Personal financial advisors

Personal Financial Advisors

Personal financial advisors provide advice on investments, insurance, mortgages, college savings, estate planning, taxes, and retirement to help individuals manage their finances.  

Bachelor's degree $89,160
Police and detectives

Police and Detectives

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

See How to Become One $60,270
Security guards and gaming surveillance officers

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

Security guards and gaming surveillance officers patrol and protect property against theft, vandalism, terrorism, and illegal activity.

High school diploma or equivalent $24,680
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Private Detectives and Investigators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm (visited December 09, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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Work Environment

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How to Become One

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's Career InfoNet.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

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Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.