Bureau of Labor Statistics

Private Detectives and Investigators

private detectives and investigators image
Private detectives and investigators obtain information for clients.
Quick Facts: Private Detectives and Investigators
2017 Median Pay $50,700 per year
$24.38 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, 2016 41,400
Job Outlook, 2016-26 11% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 4,400

Summary

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, researching cases on computers, while others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews and performing surveillance. Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours.

How to Become a Private Detective or Investigator

Most private detectives and investigators need several years of work experience and a high school diploma. In addition, 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 $50,700 in May 2017.

Job Outlook

Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than 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

Private detectives and investigators
Private detectives and investigators 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 online, public, and court records to uncover clues
  • Conduct surveillance
  • Collect evidence for clients
  • Check for civil judgments and criminal history

Private detectives and investigators offer many services for individuals, attorneys, and businesses. Examples include 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.

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, detectives and investigators 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.

Skip tracers specialize in locating people whose whereabouts are unknown. For example, debt collectors may employ them to locate people who have unpaid bills.

Work Environment

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

Private detectives and investigators held about 41,400 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of private detectives and investigators were as follows:

Investigation, guard, and armored car services 31%
Self-employed workers 31
Government 8
Finance and insurance 5
Retail trade 5

Private detectives and investigators work in many environments, depending on the case. Some spend more time in offices, researching cases on computers and making phone calls. Others spend more time in the field, conducting interviews or performing surveillance. In addition, private detectives and investigators may have to work outdoors or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather, in order to obtain the information their client needs.

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

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.

How to Become a Private Detective or Investigator

Private detectives and investigators
Although most learn on the job, many private detectives and investigators have a law enforcement background.

Private detectives and investigators typically need several years of work experience and a high school diploma. In addition, 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.

Training

Most private detectives and investigators learn through on-the-job training, typically lasting between several months and a year.

Although new investigators must learn how to gather information, additional training depends on the type of firm that hires them. For example, investigators may learn to conduct remote surveillance, reconstruct accident scenes, or investigate insurance fraud. Corporate investigators hired by large companies may receive formal training in business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Private detectives and investigators must typically 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 may have previously worked as bill and account collectors, claims adjusters, paralegals, or process servers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require private detectives and investigators to have a license. Check with your state for more information; Professional Investigator Magazine has links to most states’ 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.

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 other investigators, 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

Private Detectives and Investigators

Median annual wages, May 2017

Private detectives and investigators

$50,700

Total, all occupations

$37,690

Other protective service workers

$27,150

 

The median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $50,700 in May 2017. 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 $28,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,730.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for private detectives and investigators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $56,700
Finance and insurance 56,090
Investigation, guard, and armored car services 48,920
Retail trade 45,300

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.

Job Outlook

Private Detectives and Investigators

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Private detectives and investigators

11%

Total, all occupations

7%

Other protective service workers

7%

 

Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

Continued lawsuits, fraud and other crimes, and interpersonal mistrust create demand for investigative services, particularly by the legal services industry.

Background checks will continue to be a source of work for some investigators, as online investigations are not always sufficient.

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.

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, 2016-26

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

Occupational Title

Private detectives and investigators

SOC Code33-9021
Employment, 201641,400
Projected Employment, 202645,800
Percent Change, 2016-2611
Numeric Change, 2016-264,400
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data

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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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

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 2017 MEDIAN PAY
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 $69,350
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 $35,330
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 $64,690
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 $81,690
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, and other illegal activity.

High school diploma or equivalent $26,960
Paralegals and legal assistants

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Associate's degree $50,410
Fire inspectors and investigators

Fire Inspectors

Fire inspectors examine buildings in order to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators, another type of worker in this field, determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists assess outdoor fire hazards in public and residential areas.

See How to Become One $56,670
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 $62,960
Forensic science technicians

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. Many technicians specialize in various types of laboratory analysis.

Bachelor's degree $57,850

Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Friday, April 13, 2018

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Private Detectives and Investigators,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm (visited November 06, 2018).

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