If you love gathering information and brainstorming or carrying out analysis in order to put the pieces together, then you are likely to love the job  of a private investigator.

Private investigators are also called PIs or private detectives and they specialize in carrying out private enquiries on behalf of their clients in order to unearth some needed information or verify some facts for their clients. The PIs will work in various fields including the legal profession, private clients, private companies, insurance companies, businesses and many others.

Some PIs proceed into entrepreneurship and establish their own private investigative agencies whose services can be contracted for various situations.  Because the primary role of the PIs is to conduct investigations, they always carry out a great deal of surveillance and research in order to gather the relevant information for their clients.

Apart from the surveillance activities, PIs also carry out other functions such as verifying the background information of individuals and other entities, conducting interviews on behalf of their clients or performing searches on the public records in order to unearth some information.

What Makes a Good Private Investigator

A good private investigator must have good knowledge of the federal, state and local laws pertaining to the profession. They must also work within those rules as well as regulations. Apart from their investigative skills or their expertise in finding information, PIs also need to have very good people skills. They should be able to remain calm in the toughest of situations in order to deliver to their clients.

Many states are now introducing regulations to do with the conduct of the private investigators. For example, they will be required to have a form of training that is recognized and also licensed by Security Industry Association or SIA. It is always a big plus if private investigators have experience in a security-related industry. PIs must be honest and knowledgeable about the law. They must also have a keen eye for observing the finest of details which will be relevant for the job that they are doing. 

Private Investigator Job Duties and Responsibilities

Private investigators are always employed in very diverse roles of enquiry jobs. For example, they could carry out surveillance and enquiry on personal issues such as divorce or the case of a cheating partner. They can also be involved in company cases and even criminal cases such as theft and murder where they are hired by a law firm or a private client.

PI work involves lots of research and analysis of information. They have to ask lots of questions and compile lots of data that will help their clients find a solution to a particular problem. The work of the private investigator generally involves the following:

  • They can be involved in tracing missing persons and finding witnesses
  • Taking photographs and/or videos that can be used as evidence in criminal or civil cases
  • Working undercover in various organizations in order to unearth useful information
  • Performing asset and liability checks
  • Preparation of investigative reports
  • Carrying out surveillance
  • Performing fraud investigations such as accident claims and insurance claims
  • Process serving of legal documents to people
  • Tracing missing pets
  • Performing investigations on cases of commercial piracy
  • Performing background checks on employees or job applicants
  • Many PIs work alone and are generally self-employed.


Private investigators generally come from various backgrounds. However, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employers tend to have a preference for certain skills sets in PIs. They also prefer certain traits such as resourcefulness, honesty, good observation skills and the ability to work independently. A good PI must be of sound character and with no past criminal records or convictions.  They must have good research skills and good skills in performing interviews in order to unearth important information.

A candidate with a criminal justice associate’s or bachelor’s degree is likely to be very attractive for many employers particularly in the high paying PI jobs such as financial and corporate investigations. Other desirable academic qualifications include an accounting or computer science degree. In spite of the qualifications, many aspiring PIs will have to learn a lot on the job through experience and can increase their skills and attractiveness by taking extra certifications related to PI practice.

Many states have various licensing requirements for PIs. Apart from these, there are certain regulations that must be adhered to particularly for those PIs that carry firearms. There are various organizations that offer professional certifications for PIs and it is important for aspiring candidates to carry out adequate research in order to find the most reputable programs.

Job Outlook

According to data and projections by the BLS, there is going to be massive demand for private investigators in the future. In the 10 years between 2010 and 2020, this is sector is poised to see a 21% growth rate. Like in other security-related careers, this is driven by a very robust demand for increased security. Companies and individuals are also making more investments for the protection of sensitive information. The job is paying well above the average salaries in the US. In the year 2011, the 26,000 PIs in the country earned an average of $48,610. However, the salary potential will vary based on a number of factors such as educational level, employment history as well as regional market conditions.

Projected Salary

Based on data by BLS, PIs earned a mean annual salary of $50,780 in 2012. This is a mean hourly rate of $24.42.  The top 10% earners in the field took home upwards of $79,790.

Investigator Jobs and Openings

Below are some of the latest listings and openings on the job: