If you are interested in becoming a private investigator, there are several requirements you’ll need to fulfill before you can apply for a private investigator license.

What’s Required to Get a P.I. License?

For example, in the state of California, a person must be at least eighteen years of age and pass criminal background checks by the FBI and California Department of Justice. Similar rules apply in mostly all states. Before applying to be a PI, the applicant usually must prove at least three years of paid investigative experience as a military police officer, sworn law enforcement officer or insurance adjuster. Prior work as an employee of a licensed arson investigator, licensed re-possessor or public defender may also qualify a person to apply for a PI license. There are similar requirements in other states as well, especially if you want to become a private investigator in New York. Typically, a person who holds a law degree or has completed a four-year college level course in police science may apply to be a licensed private investigator as can someone who has earned an associate’s degree in criminal law.

Examination and Certification

When those requirements are met, the applicant will take a two-hour written test that covers the laws and regulations that apply to private detectives along with Q&A regarding criminal and civil liability, surveillance, undercover investigation and evidence handling. After the applicant passes the multiple-choice test, they will receive a certificate of completion by mail. With that in hand, the applicant can pay the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services a fee and get right to work.

Getting Started: Online Classes

The first thing to do if you want to be a private detective is to familiarize yourself with the rules and requirements for PI licensing in your state. There are a number of online courses and local college classes that can prepare you for a thrilling private investigator career. For hands-on experience, ask a local PI if you can work for them as an apprentice assistant. Doing so will give you the experience hours you need to apply for a private investigation license.

Private Investigations is Not What it Used to Be

The field of private investigations has changed considerably since the founding of the Pinkerton company in 1850. Today’s modern P.I.’s have access to computers, surveillance cameras, pocket computers and other investigative devices that those old-school detectives could only dream of.

Private investigators use a variety of investigative techniques to obtain personal, legal and financial information as it pertains to individuals and organizations. Detectives perform surveillance, conduct interviews, search records and utilize computers to investigate the identity and character of individuals on behalf of legal firms, publicly owned companies and private parties. Detectives look for the hidden causes of crime, fire and fraud.

Work for a Local Private Investigator to Gain Experience

If Phillip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes and Veronica Mars are your personal heroes, a career as a private eye could be the perfect fit. Go to work for a local private investigation agency, and you may find yourself looking forward to going to work every day. Life as an investigator is certainly never boring. There will always be people who need hard-to-find information, and you could be the one to give it to them. If you enjoy uncovering secret information, a career as a private investigator could be exactly right for you.

If you would like to work in a field that’s always intriguing, often interesting and sometimes very exciting, consider a career in investigation. Individuals, attorneys and organizations will always have work for a skilled investigator no matter how unstable the economy. If you choose to work as a professional private investigator, your skills may be employed to do background checks as well as to stop crime, fraud and personal deceit. On a personal level, the skills of a private detective may be used to prove or disprove marital infidelity in a divorce case.

Wilson, Tracy; How Private Investigators Work; 28 February 2007; HowStuffWorks.com. accessed 22 December 2014

Bureau of Labor Statistics, US. Department of Labor; Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition; accessed 22 December 2014

California Department of Consumer Affairs; Private Investigator Fact Sheet; April 2013; accessed 22 December 2014

Link to state requirements for PI licensing

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