Private Investigator

A private investigator is someone that delves deep into a case to find evidence, track down suspects, document contact information, and more. Private investigators often work under cover to conceal their identities, and they get to find out much of the exciting information that fuels the field of criminal justice. If you have an eye for detail and a passion for the legal system, you may consider a career like this in the future. Becoming a private investigator is not hard, and it will allow you to work in an ever-changing career with constant challenges to look forward to. No day is the same in a private investigator job, and no two cases are the same. Here is an overview of this line of work so you can figure out if it is right for you.

Private Investigator Job Duties

Private investigators have to take on different duties for every job they do. Each case presents a new set of challenges that a private investigator has to learn to adapt to. You have to be incredibly flexible to work in this profession, and you have to learn new skills to use for future cases. Some of the most common job duties that private investigators have to take on include:

  • Researching background information for a case
  • Gathering leads for a person’s whereabouts
  • Following people around to collect information
  • Working with law enforcement to solve mysteries
  • Photographing clues for a case
  • Documenting addresses, names, and other unknowns in a case
  • Relaying findings to clients

You may have a slightly different set of tasks to do based on the clients to you work with, but you won’t figure that out until you actually start working in the field. For now, that should at least give you a rough idea of what may be in store for you.

Private Investigator Salary Levels

Private investigators usually get paid by case or by hour, depending on what they are working on. If they are doing extensive amounts of work for one client, they may work by the hour because they cannot predict the work load. If they are only doing a few simple background checks, they may charge a flat rate for their services. This will have an impact on the amount of money you can make in this profession, so keep it in mind as you start assessing your career. Here are some charts to show you what you may earn as a private investigator.

National Estimates

  • Bottom 10 percentile earned less than $25,940 per year
  • The 25 percentile earned around $33,040 per year
  • The Annual Median Wage around $43,710 per year
  • The 75 percentile earned around $59,290 per year
  • The top 10 percentile earned more than $75,860 per year

Potential Salary by Location

  • Washington Annual Mean Wage: $65,460
  • Virginia Annual Mean Wage: $61,930
  • Texas Annual Mean Wage: $61,810
  • California Annual Mean Wage: $61,130
  • Delaware Annual Mean Wage: $58,090
  • Alabama Annual Mean Wage: $57,100
  • Arkansas Annual Mean Wage: $54,700

Potential Salary by Industry

  • Investigation and Security Services Annual Mean Wage: $44,350
  • Legal Services Annual Mean Wage: $54,600
  • Local Government Annual Mean Wage: $51,790
  • Depository Credit Intermediation Annual Mean Wage: $53,260
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises Annual Mean Wage: $50,050
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services Annual Mean Wage: $92,850
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services Annual Mean Wage: $74,450
  • Computer Systems Design Annual Mean Wage: $72,860

How to Become a Private Investigator

For the most part, you should be able to become a private investigator with some natural investigation skills. This may not be enough for you though, so you really need to think about getting a degree related to criminal justice. This will ensure that you work in compliance with the law, and it will also give you a chance to work with higher paying clients in the future. Common degree programs for private investigators include:

  • Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice
  • Associate’s Degree in Political Science
  • Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in History
  • Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
  • Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies
  • Bachelor of Science in Political Science
  • Master of Criminal Justice
  • Juris Doctorate

With the right degree in hand, you should be able to find work on your own or with a company. Do a little on-site training and learn to adapt your skills to your situation. This is all you need to be able to do to be a successful private investigator. What are you waiting for?

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  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Private Detectives and Investigators, on the Internet at (visited February 11, 2013).
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employement and Wages, May 2011, Private Detectives and Investigators, on the Internet at (visited February 11, 2013).