Many private detectives, also called PIs or private investigators, come from law enforcement after they retire, but it’s not a requirement that you have that kind of background. As long as you are nosy and have an insatiable curiosity to get into other peoples’ business, you can make a niche for yourself. You’ll join a growing legion of female PIs, according to PI Magazine. Of the approximately 60,000 PIs in the United States, about 15 percent are women and that number is on the rise.
Get a license if you need one. Most states require you to get a license to be a private detective, though you don’t need one in Wyoming, South Dakota, Mississippi, Missouri, Colorado and Idaho. All the other states have varying rules governing the job, and even some cities have special regulations you have to follow. Many states demand that you work under a licensed PI for three or more years before they’ll grant you your own license.
Turn your experience into detective work. For example, videographers and photographers make great surveillance pros, accountants can comb through books for financial investigations, actors get to play a multitude of roles as undercover detectives, and title searchers and librarians have the background searching public records for details.
Talk to a local detective agency and offer to work for free to learn the ropes. There really isn’t a degree you can get that equals the hands-on experience you’ll get as an unpaid intern. Prove your worth and you might even get offered some paid assignments from the agency. At any rate, you’ll be better prepared to go out on your own after a year or two under the tutelage of a top-notch pro.
Advertise your services through such channels as websites and your local newspapers. Ask for referrals from previous clients and from other agencies that get more requests than they can handle. Build relationships with divorce attorneys, insurance company representatives and business associations to promote your services.
- Boost your credibility with a certification from the National Association of Legal Investigators. You can qualify for the Certified Legal Investigator credential after working in the field for five years and passing a rigorous exam. The designation can help you land lucrative assignments from law firms.
- Don’t carry a gun unless you have a permit. You could lose your PI license or worse: get arrested for illegally carrying a firearm. Private detectives are supposed to follow all the laws that other citizens must obey.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."