How to Become a Private Investigator in 4 Steps

How to Become a Private Investigator

If you have patience, persistence, and a perceptive eye for detail, you may thrive as a private investigator. There are ample opportunities in locations across America to find work as a private investigator through either an agency or on an independent basis. This work can be interesting, challenging, ever-changing, and lucrative too. And while the life of a private investigator may not be quite as exciting (or dangerous) as crime novels would make it seem, it is a rewarding career choice for many people. 

The guide below covers how to become a private investigator. Plans to fulfill all the requirements in the state where you live – or plan to work – before starting your first investigation.

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

The work of a private investigator is different every day and every investigation. In general, individuals or entities (like a company) will hire a private investigator to collect, examine, and analyze information relevant to matters that are sensitive but not necessarily criminal. The common stereotype of private investigators has them primarily looking into cheating spouses, but they handle all sorts of investigations, from catching people filing fraudulent insurance claims to supporting the work of lawyers building a legal case. Some of the activities that might be involved with the work of a private investigator include:

  • Conducting surveillance 
  • Finding missing persons/property
  • Looking into someone’s background
  • Uncovering instances of fraud
  • Serving legal documents
  • Examining cold cases for new leads

Private investigators do some of their work in the field (surveillance, for instance). Nevertheless, they also spend a lot of time doing research, largely online but also in archives, public databases, and libraries. Good investigators combine strong people skills with a dogged determination to track down details. Creativity helps as well because tough investigations require outside-the-box thinking. A dash of bravery helps too for when investigations intersect with unsavory characters.

Why Become a Private Investigator?

There are a few compelling reasons to become a private investigator. The job prospects, for one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the demand for private investigators will grow by 13% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than the average growth over the same period. Aspiring investigators can expect to find open job opportunities as the industry expands and older investigators retire. 

Another reason to pursue this line of work is the compensation. The median pay in 2020 was $53,320, and while that might not sound very high, keep in mind that most private investigators don’t need a college diploma. There are also investigators who earn significantly more. For example, independent investigators’ compensation is equal to the amount of business they can attract, with no ceiling besides their ambition.

Last but not least, working as a private investigator can be very rewarding on a personal level. Investigators have to apply their skills to diverse and dynamic situations. And when they succeed at their jobs, they often uncover wrongdoing and help stop criminals as a result.

Qualifications for Becoming a Private Investigator

What does it take to become a private investigator? The qualifications are determined by the state. Each state has different standards for how to become a private investigator – some more rigorous than others. It’s important to check with the state agency that regulates private investigators to learn about the most complete and current set of standards. These are the basic (but not necessarily complete) private investigator qualifications:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have residence in the state
  • Have no criminal record

Anyone who meets these private investigator qualifications has the right to work legally. However, in many places, they will need to meet additional requirements including getting a license and a surety bond. You can check with state officials about the exact requirements where you intend to live or work.

Steps to Becoming a Private Investigator

There are 45 states (plus the District of Columbia) that require private investigators to have a license. And while the process for earning and keeping that license varies by state, the steps are typically as follows:

  1. Pass an exam that covers the basics of state law and private investigator ethics. Test takers usually need to register and pay for the exam. And while it rarely requires an intensive preparation period or formal course of study, it will require some advanced effort to pass. Do not go in unprepared. 
  2. Submit to a background or credit check as required. You may have to get fingerprinted as well, meaning having a copy of your fingerprints stored on file. 
  3. Obtain a private investigator surety bond in the minimum amount required by the state. The surety bond holds you accountable for misconduct that violates state law and causes damages to clients or the public. All surety bond types, including this one, make the principal (bondholder) financially liable for claims filed against the bond by people who suffered damages.

    Obtaining a surety bond will involve paying a flat fee in some instances. In others, the company that issues the bond will conduct a credit check and calculate the cost of the surety bond based on the bond seeker’s credit risk. Plan to renew the bond annually since private investigators must have an active bond to keep their license active as well.
  4. Apply for a private investigator license from the state agency that issues them. The application process may involve a fee.

Upon receiving a license, you have permission from the state to start conducting investigations. These investigations must abide by all state laws relevant to private investigators. If not, it could lead to expensive claims against the private investigator bond and/or loss of one’s private investigator license, effectively bringing a career to an end.

Private Investigator Bonds From Viking Bond Service

Now that you know how to become a private investigator, rely on Viking Bond Service to get your career going. You can get a surety bond at a competitive rate in no time at all. Request a quote to get a reply in under 24 hours! Have questions? Contact us or call 1-888-2-SURETY (1-888-278-7389).