A 5-Step Guide to Becoming a Private Investigator in the US

Private investigators (PIs) play a crucial role in uncovering information, gathering evidence, and solving cases. They work in various fields, such as criminal investigations, insurance fraud, and corporate intelligence.

In the US, the private investigator services market has seen decent growth. According to IBIS World, this market has grown by 1.0 percent per year on average from 2017 to 2022. In terms of revenue, the private investigator services market was valued at $7.3 billion as of 2022.

Opportunities in the private investigator sector are also expected to grow. As reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of private investigators is expected to grow by 6 percent from 2021 to 2031. That’s around 3,700 new openings for these professionals each year, on average, over the decade.

If you, too, are interested in pursuing this exciting career path, here is a five-step guide to becoming a private investigator.

#1 Research and Self-Assessment

Before embarking on any new career path, it’s essential to conduct thorough research and evaluate whether it aligns with your interests, skills, and personality traits. Private investigation requires a unique set of skills, including strong observation skills, critical thinking, and the ability to work independently. Take the time to explore the different areas of private investigation, such as surveillance, background checks, and skip tracing, to see which aspects appeal to you the most. 

You should also look into how much the job pays. According to Forbes, the average annual wage of a PI is $57,100. However, this average varies from state to state. For instance, in New York, the annual salary is $59,100, while in California, it’s $68,570. Explore these state-wise options as well so that you can land a job somewhere that pays more. 

#2 Seek Training

As an upcoming rookie in the PI industry, you can’t ignore the need for formal training and education. Without professional trainers and experienced investigators looking after you, it can get very difficult to build a career as a PI. That’s why you should seek professional training, ideally from a locally renowned PI training school that offers various courses related to the job. 

According to ACES Private Investigator School, professional courses offered at a PI school cover topics like communications, surveillance methods, private investigative equipment usage training, handling public and private records, and so on. Also, since these schools train many beginners, they take it upon themselves to teach them marketing skills. That way, a PI can work independently and also market themselves to potential clients through various channels and means. 

#3 Obtain the Necessary Licenses and Certifications

In many jurisdictions, private investigators are required to obtain licenses or certifications to practice legally. The specific requirements vary from one location to another, so it’s crucial to research the regulations in your area. Generally, you will need to meet certain criteria, such as age restrictions, background checks, and completion of specific training programs.

You might also be asked to sit for an examination in some jurisdictions. You’ll have to pass this exam to show that you have the necessary skills, knowledge, and competence to become a private investigator. The PI exam will cover topics like proper identification, report writing, courtroom testimony, manufacturing evidence, obtaining and researching public information, and so on.

#4 Build a Professional Network

Networking is a vital aspect of any profession, and private investigation is no exception. For that, you should consider attending industry conferences, seminars, and events. Doing so will help connect with other private investigators, law enforcement professionals, and even potential clients. 

You can also reach out to experienced private investigators for advice and guidance. Their insights can be invaluable as you navigate your career path. Plus, they might also be able to connect you with potential clients who require PI services.

#5 Establish Your Own Practice or Join a Firm

Once you have gained the necessary experience, obtained the required licenses, and built a solid professional network, you have the option to establish your own private investigation practice or join an existing firm. Starting your own practice allows you to have full control over your cases and clients, but it also requires strong business acumen and marketing skills. 

On the other hand, joining an established firm provides a steady flow of cases and resources but may limit your autonomy to some extent. Consider your goals, preferences, and resources before making a decision. Whichever path you choose, always prioritize professionalism, integrity, and ethical conduct to build a successful and reputable career.


private investigator thinking

For now, this is all that you should know if you want to become a private investigator in the US. The overall process, at first glance, might seem lengthy and even difficult for some. However, once you get started with the first step, the rest won’t feel too difficult. As long as you have the willpower and dedication to go ahead with this career path and can follow all the steps discussed above, nothing can hold you back from your dream of becoming a private investigator.

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