Private Investigator Career, Salary, and Private Detective Training

Connecting clues and uncovering facts are just two of the duties performed by a Private Investigator – a.k.a. PI, Private Detective, and Private Eye. Other duties of a PI include celebrity or executive protection, pre-employment verification, and individual background investigations.

Private detectives may investigate identity theft, harassing emails, and other computer crimes such as illegal downloading and copyright violations. They may assist in criminal cases, insurance fraud and general fraud cases, child custody or missing person cases, and may be hired to get “the goods” on a cheating spouse.

Much of the investigative work is done by computer. By recovering documents, looking at background information or searching databases, the detective can obtain information quickly and can analyze it to compile a case. From motor vehicle registrations to prior arrests, private detectives understand better than most the sheer amount of personal and background information available online.

Private investigators may also conduct surveillance, verify employment or income facts by phone or may pretend to be someone else to elicit information from a source. It is not unusual for a business to arrange a “job” for a private detective where he will be able to observe other workers for theft or other workplace problems.

Private Detective Career Requirements

The ability to work odd hours both in and out of the office is required and an analytical approach to acquiring information is an important personal trait for this career.

Clients can be demanding and emotional, while the work itself can range from long periods of boring surveillance to dangerous confrontations. Weekend, evening, and holiday work hours are common for this line of work.

In general, a private investigator is required to be 18 years of age or older, have a combination of educational experience in criminal justice, police science, or legal courses and experience that equals a total of 3 years; and in most states pass a background investigation and a State certification exam. Investigators who carry firearms must meet additional license requirements in all states.

Education and Training

There are no formal educational requirements yet many private detectives have undergraduate degrees. Training in police science and criminal justice are helpful to those who plan to begin a career as a detective immediately following graduation. There are private detectives in the corporate environment that hold graduate degrees in business administration, law or are certified public accountants (CPAs).

Many private detectives begin their investigative career after working in the law enforcement field and for those individuals the experience may substitute for advanced education. Most states require investigators to be licensed but licensing requirements vary widely. Seven states have no license requirements.

Private Detective Salary

Income varies with salaried private detectives in 2008 earning a median income of $41,760. The range in average wages from $23,500 per year to more than $76,640 reflects the nature of this career.

Private investigators may work for corporations or insurance companies or may be self- employed while salaries are also affected by geographic location and the specialty of the work. With 20 percent estimated to be working part time, the variation in income is not surprising.

Private Detective Career Opportunities

Competition is high for many salaried positions as private detective career positions attract qualified people such as law enforcement and military retirees. Currently, the best opportunities for new investigators are in entry level positions with detective agencies.

The increased need for security promises future growth for investigative careers. The employment opportunities for private detectives are expected to grow much faster than the average for other occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 22 percent increase in jobs by 2018 with the fastest growing specialty in the area of computer forensic investigations.

Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

8 comments… add one
  • Sarah

    Im studying criminal justice, and this website is really helping me figure out what kind of job I want, so thank you!!
    I was wondering though, how do you become a private investigator?? Like how do you apply for a job as a PI??

    • Radek M. Gadek

      The article has all the nuggets, but going to your local PI agency can be a start ( I would try to get in touch with the owner.. offer to buy them lunch or coffee in exchange for their time). Remember most states require a private detective to be licensed before they can work for a PI agency.

  • David L. Rich

    I am a big member in Criminal Justice. It is going to be my profession. Graduating this year in High School to go into the Criminal Justice field.. I like your site, it helps you know everything about the job your wanting to do and you have a variety to choose from..

  • Jessica

    I’m planning on becoming a private investigator. The type of PI i would love to be is criminal cases. i know all things are criminal. how much experience would you need to have your own PI agency?

  • Terrah

    I’m 35 and considering a career in CJ. By the time I finish college and obtain my degree I’ll be almost 40yrs old. Is this the right career path for my age?

    • Radek Gadek

      I wrote a few articles where age dilemmas are explored, and I can honestly tell you that the market for a criminal justice degree grad over the age of 35 is/will be vastly shrunk (locality does matter — someone mentioned in one of my other blog posts that San Francisco, CA has no age limit; others may have raised or no age limit, too… this is very rare).

      If you’re in the starting stages of obtaining a Criminal Justice degree, I would heavily consider switching majors. To what? That’s up to you, but consider age and overall need for particular degree holders. is a great resource to check out for that.

  • Valentina


    I’m interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice, maybe as a PI, I don’t want to see anything gruesome of any sort, but still want to work in this field… I am currently working on my B.S at a university (for Criminal Justice), in the meantime is there something I can do to start my career, I would like to gain experience any suggestions?.
    BY the way your cute, are you Lebanese by any chance?( lol).

  • Isabel

    Hi Mr. Radek,
    First of all thank you for providing so useful information. I graduated from College with an Associate in Legal Studies, it hard to find a job as a paralegal without the experience. It is so frustrating, many firms requires you to have at least 5 years experience, really? how can you gain that if nobody give you the chance to work in the field. However, I am actually enrolled in the University to go for my Bachelor in Criminal Justice, but me concern is my age. My question, what career in criminal justice is more recommendable for somebody over 40s? I love the field, always wanted to be a PI, but I don’t know if it is the right path to go at my age. Any suggestions?

    Thank you

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