Private Investigator Programs

Private investigators research people’s lives on behalf of other citizens, companies, or the government. They go through judicial records and legal documents, as well as social media and internet databases. The goal is to gather as much information as possible to support lawsuits, collections, and other actionable items.

Education & Training

Trade Schools with Private Investigator Programs

To succeed on this career path, interested parties may attend private investigator trade schools. Relevant skills taught include collecting details, conducting surveillance, and interviewing witnesses.

Recruits must also have a firm understanding of local legal statutes to maintain the integrity of the evidence found so that it may be admissible in court.

Educational Requirements

Private investigators must have a high school diploma. However, most employers prefer candidates with specialized training, like a two or four-year criminal justice degree. Vocational education courses teach necessary skills as well.

After courses are complete, potentials find employment and begin on-the-job training. For example, law firms teach private investigators basic terms and how to examine case files. And at an insurance company, they’ll learn how to reconstruct accident scenes.

Employers look for well-rounded applicants. Attending a private investigator trade school teaches job hopefuls the necessary research, personal, and technical abilities. Recruits first learn in the classroom, giving them a foundation for their careers.

Once a trainee has enough experience, they apply for their private investigator license. States run some of these certifications, although there are private organizations, like the National Association of Legal Investigators and ASIS International who have related programs.

Private investigators research people’s lives on behalf of other citizens, companies, or the government. They go through judicial records and legal documents, as well as social media and internet databases. The goal is to gather as much information as possible to support lawsuits, collections, and other actionable items.


The average private investigator salary is $50K. Depending on where a candidate lives and the company that employs them, the pay rate can be as high as $89K. Those on the higher end of the salary scale often work for attorneys, the government, and larger businesses.

State Hourly wage Annual wage
Alabama $24.92 $51,830.00
Alaska $31.85 $66,250.00
Arizona $28.39 $59,060.00
Arkansas $31.68 $65,890.00
California $28.80 $59,900.00
Colorado $31.90 $66,360.00
Connecticut $31.90 $66,350.00
Delaware $21.70 $45,130.00
Florida $28.84 $60,000.00
Georgia $26.62 $55,380.00
Hawaii $31.88 $66,320.00
Idaho $19.52 $40,610.00
Illinois $31.99 $66,540.00
Indiana $23.48 $48,840.00
Iowa $23.53 $48,940.00
Kansas $23.38 $48,630.00
Kentucky $22.52 $46,840.00
Louisiana $22.64 $47,090.00
Maine $22.33 $46,440.00
Maryland $28.31 $58,880.00
Massachusetts $26.79 $55,730.00
Michigan $28.12 $58,490.00
Minnesota $27.64 $57,480.00
Mississippi $18.99 $39,510.00
Missouri $27.43 $57,040.00
Montana $31.14 $64,760.00
Nebraska $30.07 $62,550.00
Nevada $27.31 $56,800.00
New Hampshire $32.67 $67,960.00
New Jersey $28.90 $60,100.00
New Mexico $24.56 $51,090.00
New York $33.30 $69,260.00
North Carolina $31.52 $65,560.00
Ohio $25.37 $52,770.00
Oklahoma $21.58 $44,880.00
Oregon $33.96 $70,640.00
Pennsylvania $28.37 $59,000.00
Puerto Rico $17.80 $37,020.00
Rhode Island $28.16 $58,580.00
South Carolina $25.13 $52,270.00
South Dakota $26.17 $54,420.00
Tennessee $27.70 $57,620.00
Texas $26.44 $54,990.00
Utah $22.48 $46,750.00
Virginia $32.86 $68,340.00
Washington $32.45 $67,490.00
West Virginia $32.37 $67,340.00
Wisconsin $25.77 $53,600.00

Occupation: Private Detectives and Investigators (SOC Code339021)

What Is a Private Investigator?

Private investigators work to uncover truths. For example, businesses may hire them to research employees who commit work-related crimes like theft.

Or they may be commissioned to verify the employment history of potential new hires. Governments also utilize private investigators to check for fraud in cases dealing with insurance or disability.

Since private investigator duties vary, every working day is different. Certain cases may require sitting in a vehicle for a stakeout, while others involve office-like environments such as sitting at a computer reviewing social media apps for clues.

People often believe that PIs are law enforcement, and while both have degrees in criminal justice, private investigator requirements do not include attending a police academy.

Instead, they continue their training at trade school and in the field to gain the experience and knowledge needed to earn their license.

Do Private Investigators Need a Special License?

Depending on the state, recruits may only need a private investigator degree. However, some mandate that individuals must obtain certifications before opening their own agency. License requirements involve test scores, hours worked, and courses taken.

Career Overview

Job Duties

Private investigators juggle many projects relevant to their caseload. They often utilize databases, such as court transcripts, to uncover pertinent information. Background checks are routinely done, and at times even deeper searches may be conducted. A private investigator may use special technology, such as wiretaps to obtain information.

On top of this, a private investigator may have many open cases. To keep everything in order, associates must maintain updated client files. Photographs, papers, and other findings should be well-organized and easily accessible. Additional duties include:

  • Informing clients about case updates
  • Completing undercover assignments
  • Crafting false personas
  • Understanding federal, state, and local laws
  • Maintaining professional certifications

What Types of Skills Should Private Investigators Possess?

Prospects need diverse skills to become a private investigator. They handle interviews, do research, and take photographs.

Detailed transcripts of findings are used as compelling evidence and should be well written and clear.

Patience is also crucial because proper surveillance and research can take weeks or months to gather. In fact, a case may be open for years if it’s complex.

Fact Finding

Private investigators use any allowable means to gather facts.

Unpleasant as it is, it’s lawful to dig through a person’s trash, and a professional PI may go through the bags looking for receipts and other evidence to support a case. A private investigator can then go through the bags looking for information, like receipts, for a case.

Tech Savvy

A private investigator resume emphasizes their computer knowledge. Most of the research done is through electronic means.

Knowledge of various social networking platforms and online database systems is crucial.

Hopefuls may end up spending time doing general internet searches to locate details, such as current addresses and family members.

Conduct Research

Research is a crucial part of private investigator training. Once employed, recruits spend a good portion of time on this task. On the job, workers complete their cases using a number of different means, including conducting interviews, going through documents, and gathering electronic evidence, such as going through email or social media accounts.

Other Useful Skills

  • Ability to interview people from different backgrounds
  • Uncover information utilizing computers
  • Patience to sit for long periods of time
  • Conduct searches on social media
  • Capability to take clear still photos and video footage
  • Work with sources to gather information
  • Deal with inclement weather on fact-finding undertakings
  • Circumvent possibly dangerous situations

Work Environment

After completing private investigator school, hopefuls must gain relevant experience in order to apply for their license. The required hours for this vary by state, and time spent in a classroom often count. Once a candidate is able to, they can open up a private practice. However, many choose to continue their tenure at larger companies.

Private investigators face hazards. They spend a lot of time, sometimes at night, alone surveilling houses and movements in various neighborhoods. If they are looking into a crime or missing persons case, the associate could end up in a dangerous situation.

Special Equipment

In general, private investigator equipment consists of cameras to take pictures and videos, and an audio recorder and microphone to document interviews. Computers with internet access and smartphone apps are also private investigator tools. General recordkeeping items are necessary, such as paper and electronic files.

Where Do They Work?

Many applicants choose to open up their own practices. They accept clients on a case-by-case basis.

However, some businesses hire in-house private investigators to handle a number of related tasks.

Those with a degree and certifications in this field find themselves employed by:

  • Insurance Companies
  • Federal and Local Governments
  • Collection Agencies
  • Armored Car Services
  • Attorneys

Can You Work Remotely?

A private investigator is often outside of their office, but requires hands-on work, regardless of the task . Completing surveillance takes place in vehicles and buildings. Researching cases and related information occurs in government buildings and archives. Online fact-finding is the only remote work a private investigator performs.

Other Career Options

With a private investigator certificate, potentials can launch a career in law enforcement. The talents of a private investigator match those of detectives. People in both careers comb through records, look for clues, and complete interviews. However, more schooling is required.

Forensic science technicians, another related career option, need similar knowledge. Employees collect and process evidence from crime scenes, using the methods of private investigators as they comb through the trash. These staff members need an additional science degree.

In addition to private investigator careers, those who have plenty of practice also work in related fields. For example, security guards protect stores and banks. Prospects find employment through private security offices or through specific businesses.

Fire inspectors use research tools, similar to those utilized by a private investigator. Staff in those positions comb through the rubble of a burned building. They also look up information to find clues in posted photographs before reaching conclusions based on what they find.

Career Outlook

Over 33,000 people currently work in this field. Predictions place its growth at eight percent. The increasing amount of positions indicates that there will be plenty of jobs in the future.