Detective work, whether through the police or a private entity, can be a challenging and rewarding occupation. Police detectives investigate scenes seeking clues to solve crimes and prosecute criminals. Similarly, private investigators investigate people, companies or events to find requested information or proof for clients. While you may have a competitive advantage if you study criminal justice or a similar field in a university, you may also enter the field with merely a high school diploma if you have some basic experience. Consider volunteering as an option to gain this experience to begin a career in this field.
Back the Blue
The easiest way to learn about law enforcement and eventually to gain experience in detective work is to volunteer at your local police department. While many positions are clerical or manual labor in nature, you can grow in your experience and name recognition through serving in this way until you can apply to be a detective. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has over 20 divisions who use volunteers. Consult with your volunteer supervisor to see what specific classes you could take at local community college in order to be the most useful as a volunteer and to have the best chance at a job later.
Help a Private Eye
Seek out private detective agencies for a volunteering opportunity. These organizations may be traditional detective agencies that investigate activities such as cheating spouses and frivolous disability claims or they may be niche agencies like Mission for the Missing, a volunteer organization that searches for missing people at no cost to the families. In a traditional private eye role, you will perform such tasks as searching through surveillance videos, answering the telephone and sorting and cataloging evidence. You will have ample opportunity to learn about the field as you watch your supervisor and other experts perform the craft.
Hit the Books and the Web
Some volunteers utilize technology and public records to assist charities and other public officials in gathering and sorting resources. In a volunteer historical researcher role, for example, you may convert old records into electronic formats to preserve and catalog them. You will have the opportunity to search through and categorize birth and death certificates, court records and other historical documents which can prove useful as a detective later. Similarly, developmental detectives thoroughly scour the Internet for information to assist grant writers and researchers in their trades. You may search for the grants themselves or for necessary information about upholding the provisions of existing grants. You may also assist in writing grants which may enhance your written communication skills, a useful skill in performing detective documentation work. While these two volunteer positions are not tied directly to law enforcement, they will demonstrate that you have research, organizational and investigative skills necessary to be a professional detective.
Intern With a Detective
Another volunteering venue that will help your career path is a specialized internship in arson investigations or cold cases research. Arson investigators sift through a potential crime scene to find clues as to the cause of a fire. Within this program you will learn firefighting basics, forensic work and reporting methodology. Your program may also give you a certificate or you may have opportunities with a local college to gain further credentials. Similarly, cold case investigators may use unpaid interns to organize and catalog large amounts of data to help solve older crimes. You will also assist by providing a "fresh set of eyes" on the sometimes mountains of crime data that accumulates over the life of a case. These internships place you in the front line of investigation and make highly relevant resume material as you search for a paid position.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Police and Detectives
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Private Detectives and Investigators
- Discoverpolicing.org: Skills and Abilities
- The Los Angeles Police Department: Volunteer Opportunities
- Policevolunteers.org: Why Volunteer at a Law Enforcement Agency? Simple - We Need You!
- P.I. Advice: 7 Ways to Build Experience and Land a Private Investigator Job
- The Boston Globe: Giving Hope at a Time of Fear, Loss
- Volunteer Match: Are you a Development Detective?
- Firescience.org: How to Become an Arson Investigator