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Private Investigator Career Outlook and Salary

Private investigators, also known as private detectives, are employed in a variety of fields. Many work for law firms, businesses or individuals, while others run their own investigative agencies. At its core, the job of a private investigator (PI) is to gather information. PIs are often asked to conduct surveillance, verify an individual’s background, conduct interviews and search public records.

Private investigators must know the local, state and federal laws that apply to the profession and must operate within those rules and regulations. They must be comfortable working alone; their assignments may involve travel and irregular hours. Private investigators should also have strong people skills and be able to maintain their poise in potentially stressful situations.

Job Outlook and Salary Range for Private Investigators

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is predicting robust demand for private investigators and detectives in the coming years. According to the BLS, from 2014 to 2024 the field will experience a job growth rate of 5% mainly because of increased security demands and the growing need to protect sensitive information. The popularity of the Internet has created a haven for cyber criminals, spammers and identity thieves, which will also fuel demand for investigators.

In May 2016, there were about 28,000 private detectives and investigators nationwide, earning a median annual salary of $48,190, the BLS reported. Salary potential, like job prospects, varies based on regional market conditions and an individual’s educational level and employment history.

New York, Florida, California and Pennsylvania have the highest levels of employment in the field, which is usually competitive because it attracts a variety of qualified applicants, including law enforcement retirees.

Education and Training for Private Investigators

Although private investigators come from a variety of backgrounds, the BLS lists several core skills and traits that employers often look for, including: honesty, curiosity and resourcefulness.  A good candidate will likely also have experience interviewing people and working with computers.

An associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can make a candidate more attractive to a potential employer, and a BA may be required for some jobs, including many involving corporate or financial investigations. A degree in business, accounting or computer science may also be applicable, the BLS reports.

Many investigators learn on the job. Some specialized jobs, such as insurance or corporate investigator, may require advanced and continuing training.

There are licensing requirements for private investigators and detectives in many states, according to the BLS. In addition, there are regulations for investigators who wish to carry firearms.

Professional certification is available from organizations such as the National Association of Legal Investigators.

Career Paths for Private Investigators

A range of career paths are open to private investigators and detectives, including in law, government, business and security. They may be employed as loss prevention agents in retail stores or as corporate investigators who look into problems such as expense account abuse or workplace drug use.

Many attorneys use private investigators to gather information for civil or criminal trial defense cases. In divorce cases, family law attorneys might retain investigators to verify marital infidelity. In addition, PIs may conduct background checks on job applicants on behalf of employers.

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