Claude Bookout is President of United Investigations International, a private investigations firm located in Austin, Texas. ( Texas license number: C9472

Blog updated monthly.

United International Investigations is an experienced private investigations firm with a reputation for integrity, dependability, and thoroughness. The firm provides its clients with a broad range of investigative assistance. Corporations, law firms, and prominent individuals have relied on its professional team of investigators to obtain power and control over their particular situations.

Want to improve your chances of getting a PI job?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of private investigations is projected to grow by 22% over the next decade.

Although the field is growing, competition for employment is keen. Agency owners receive several calls a month from people who say, “I’d like to be a private investigator.” But most of these callers do not have the qualifications to become a private investigator or fail to grab the agency owner's attention. Truth be told, an investigative agency that finds a qualified individual will often create a part-time position for him or her. Given the high turnover rate in the profession, such individuals will likely move quickly into a full time position.

This blog entry is designed to help you increase your chances of getting hired by a private detective agency and help you prepare for life on the job.

First, and most importantly, before calling an investigator about employment, make sure you qualify in your state to be a field investigator for a private agency. These rules vary by state. InTexas, for example, you are typically disqualified if you have a felony conviction, but you can obtain a field license without any specialized courses as long as you are 18 years old. The investigative agency will sponsor you. In Illinois, however, you have to be 21 years or older and complete a 20-hour course to qualify for work with a licensed agency.

Second, deeply consider whether you really can work as a private investigator. Unless you have some special training in law, accounting, or computer forensics, you are not likely going to be an investigator with a nine-to-five schedule. If you happen to know accounting, you may be able to work as a fraud examiner with a more stable schedule. But it’s more likely that you are someone who does not have much formal training in investigative work. That is fine, but you’re going to work primarily for an agency as a surveillance specialist. The needs for surveillance-related work are high, so it is a great way to get started with an agency when you don’t have many specialized skills. But be forewarned: The hours are erratic and you will likely need to work every weekend from early evening to early morning (1600 hours to 0300 hours). You will have weeks that are busy and weeks that are slow. What this means is that some weeks you will not sleep much and other weeks you won’t have income. Does this sound okay for you? If it does, then this is something you should tell an agency owner. But you have to follow through. If you work hard, you’ll likely get to do other things and move up in the company. Eventually, you may even qualify for your own agency license. But answer this question truthfully: Are you willing to forgo your personal life for a few years? As a “part-time” employee you won’t work a set 20- hours-per-week schedule, you’ll be called upon at various times in the week. If you say you can’t go to work too often, then you’ll stop receiving calls for work.

Third, when you do call an agency owner and he or she asks you why you want (or are qualified) to be a private investigator, do not reply in any way similar to the following: “I’ve always thought it would be cool to be a private investigator,” “I like the shows Cheaters and Sex Decoys and would like to do this work,” “I just need a job and I’ve always been good at snooping on my neighbors.” Many people say this and it is not impressive. Consider more deeply what special skills or knowledge you can bring to an agency and start there: “I know how to operate a camera, can drive defensively, and have a great deal of common sense—you know, those things that can make you good at doing surveillance work.”

Fourth, prepare yourself. You can begin your career as a private investigator without a college degree. However, this does not mean you do not have to educate yourself about rules, laws, and regulations. If you still believe that you’d make a great investigator after all you’ve read, you can impress an agency owner with your knowledge of laws. For self-education, the following reading materials are recommended:

  • Your state’s laws regulating the profession and relevant practices (e.g., pretexting and recording conversations).
  • The following two books:

While this information cannot guarantee employment, it is likely going to help your chances. Being a private investigator can be rewarding, but it takes a great deal of hard work, specific knowledge, and practice to succeed.