What does it take to become a private investigator?

Private investigators need to have a range of different qualities and skills to be able to do what they do. So, what does it take to become one?
A private detectives magnifying glass
Photo by theilr (Flickr) is licensed under CC BY 2.0
 

Confidence and discretion

Private investigators have to be discreet. When conducting covert surveillance, it’s vital that a private detective stays out of sight, otherwise the whole operation will be blown. They must learn not to draw attention to themselves, since they need to be able to discreetly attach tracking devices. They also require confidence, as their work can sometimes land them in potentially dangerous situations. As a private investigator, you dig up things that people would rather stay secret, such as matrimonial indiscretions and criminal activity. Your investigative targets may confront you for exposing them, in which case you need to be calm, rational, confident and stalwart. You may at times have to conduct face-to-face interviews with people who are not particularly thrilled to speak to you.

Excellent observation skills

This is an obvious one. Private investigators need to be alert and aware of everything around them, since they are trying to gather reliable evidence for their clients. Some of this evidence might for solicitors to use in legal cases. They also need to carefully observe their targets with a keen eye and use a variety of investigative and surveillance-focused techniques. They need to have an analytical mind to be able to comprehend what they are seeing or hearing.

Training and experience

While private investigators do not need degrees under their belts, you are more likely to get a job if you have some training and experience. It’s recommended that you obtain some legal and business training, as well as general investigative training. Gain experience by seeking employment with the police, HM Forces, local authorities (who conduct investigations in matters such as health and safety and benefit fraud) and other agencies. You also need to make sure you are familiar with and up to date with current law and policy governing the investigative profession, in particular privacy and data protection laws. Consider offering your services on a freelance basis if you find that you still don’t have enough experience for an employed role. You may find that you prefer working freelance.

Technical aptitude

Private investigators do need a level of technical aptitude, which is likely to come with training and experience. However, if you’re a techno-phobe who struggles to find their way around a computer, this role may not be for you. This is because you would have to be dab hands at using the tools and equipment of the trade. These include digital cameras, tracking devices, laptops, still cameras, scanners and other equipment. You may be involved in some quite technical processes as well, including doing comprehensive background checks.

Flexibility and willingness

The work day of a private investigator can be very variable. One day might be spent out and about in search of a missing person, pursuing leads and interviewing potential witnesses. Another might be spent sitting in front of a computer investigating the criminal and personal history of a potential employee, partner or tenant. You might also be working through the night, at the weekends or during public holidays conducting surveillance assignments. It’s therefore extremely important that you are willing and able to be flexible according to the needs of your firm or client. There are no ‘typical days’ in the life of a private investigator in London, which makes the job exciting. However, if you are the sort of person who likes predictability in their schedule, it may not be the right job for you.  

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