Private investigation is a lucrative job, and in the United States, there are more than 36,000 people who have decided to make investigations their career. But while the industry is growing at an exceptional rate, learning how to get started as a private investigator can be complex, as each state has its own requirements for licensing and certification. In this post, we’ll dive into what it requires to become a private investigator, and the steps you’ll need to take to begin your own career as a private detective.
What is a Private Investigator?
A private investigator is a person who has been hired to investigate a specific case or situation—from finding missing persons to assessing the injury in a workers’ compensation or insurance claim, or even providing background information on individuals to companies or other individuals. Many times working outside or alongside law enforcement, a private investigator is typically adept at surveillance, understanding public information and records, and other investigative techniques.
What qualifications do you need to become a private investigator?
It’s relatively straightforward to become a private investigator, once you have determined the qualifications for the state in which you live. Generally, you’ll need to have:
- A High School diploma or equivalent
- Prior career experience in law enforcement or military (optional, but preferred)
- A degree in criminal justice or a related field of study (optional, but helpful!)
- State-specific certifications and/or credentials
From that point forward, however, each state has different requirements in terms of education, experience, and licensing requirements, as well as different agencies who manage the adherence for certification and/or licensure. For example, let’s look at three states and how they differ:
- In Florida, one must have two years of prior relevant experience in order to apply to take the state exam, and if they pass they will qualify for a “C” license. Without experience, you’ll need 40 hours of training from an approved training provider, instead, to qualify for a “CC license”. All licensing is managed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. There is no continuing education requirement.
- In Georgia, one must have two years of prior relevant experience or a four-year criminal justice degree, and must pass a state-administered examination in order to qualify for the Private Detective License. Conversely, Georgia offers a Private Detective Employee license, where one can work under another person’s license; this option still requires 70 hours of training from a Board Approved Training provider, as well as passing the exam. The governing entity is the Georgia Board of Private Detectives & Security Agencies, and 16 hours of continuing education experience is required every two years.
- In Texas, where the governing agency is the Texas Department of Public Safety, in order to become a company representative for an investigative company, one must have at least one of the following: three years (or 6,000 hours) of prior relevant experience; a Criminal Justice degree or Associates’ degree with two years’ experience; 400 hours of instruction from a four-year college recognized by the state for investigative training. Without experience, you can must submit an individual application and work under an investigative company. As a company representative, you are required to complete eight hours of continuing education. However, with an individual application, every two years, you will need 12-18 hours of continuing education depending on your years of experience.
Because of this, it’s important to do the due diligence required in order to find out what exactly is required of you in any state you plan to operate in. Fortunately, there are resources (like NITA’s State Courses Search) that provide this information quickly at a glance.
How do I become a private investigator?
If you’re serious about becoming a private investigator, there are a number of things you’ll need to do in order to start your career. Here are some of the steps you should take toward that goal:
1. Know your state requirements
Because each state is different and has different requirements, it’s important to find out up front what you’ll need to move forward.
You will need to research the laws and regulations of your state to determine all of the requirements. Each state offers various rules regarding training, pre-licensing curriculum, reciprocity agreements and continuing education.
2. Meet the general requirements needed
As we outlined above, make sure that you are in line with whatever the general requirements are that your state requires (years of education or experience, or other licenses or certifications like concealed carry permits). Because some states will only license you with prior experience, you may want to get to know a local investigator who can show you the ropes and offer some on-the-job training. LIkewise, if you don’t have the appropriate level of education, you’ll want to focus on getting that, before you worry about licensing. Remember, should you have questions about your state’s specific requirements, or professional development courses, you can contact NITA for further information.
3. Get licensed
Once you have all the pieces in place for the state requirements, work toward licensing! Again, how this works is dependent on the state and the licensing agency, but in most cases, you will have a certain number of hours from an approved training provider, and several states require that you pass a final exam to get licensed. As an example of pre-licenses courses we offer, and the hours required for each, NITA currently offers Private Investigator Pre-Licensing training that is state and board approved in the following states:
- Florida Investigator CC Pre-License Course (40 hr)
- Georgia Private Detective Pre-License Course (70-hr)
4. Select an area of expertise
While not a requirement, finding a specialization or area of expertise could be helpful as you get a career as a private investigator off the ground. Keeping in mind that specialization could be in either the types of clients you take (i.e., only working with corporate clients or for companies), or the type of investigations you do (i.e., only working on domestic or infidelity cases). Do some research for a broader idea of all the different types of areas you could find work in, or check out our post on investigative specializations.
5. Find an agency
Once you are licensed, you’ll have to make the decision: do you want to work for yourself, or within a larger agency? While there is no right or wrong answer as to which is best, keep in mind that working for yourself requires a bit more effort upfront in order to start your own private investigator business and get your career moving. Working in a larger agency or under another, more seasoned detective also has its perks if you are able to get mentored and grow your level of expertise underneath someone else with a storied background or career of their own.
6. Keep up your training
Even after you have your career as a private investigator established, you’ll want to keep up your continuing education. Many states require this every year or two as part of your licensing requirements, but even if your state doesn’t, it’s just good practice to keep yourself well-informed and up to current trends and market needs.
Remember, if you want to pursue a career as a Private Investigator, NITA offers self-paced, online pre-licensing training along with continuing education and professional development courses to help you along your path, from the very beginning. If you have questions as you get started, or even once you have become licensed, please give us a call.
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Our enrollment counselors are here to answer any questions you might have about our state- and board-approved status, pre-licensing training, or professional development programs.