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.

Students: Your education is valuable to a private investigator

College is full swing around the country and students are working hard (okay, some are) toward their degrees in a myriad of subjects. While the atmosphere seems to be a bit more energetic and positive then in recent years, the on-going recession and the burgeoning student debt problem are still tempering the mood. The long-held belief that a college degree—any college degree—was a fast track to a lucrative career and high paying job has proven to be a myth. Before parents begin remodeling the guest room for a permanent resident or before students drown their sorrows in another cheap beer, let’s explore some ways in which student can translate a degree into a career as a professional private investigator.
Why should students consider the profession? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the field of private investigations will grow by 22% over the next eight years. This does not mean, of course, that you can just grab your diploma in Medieval European Literature, Gender Studies, or Business Administration, in May and get a job as a private investigator. As BLS also reports, 
Keen competition is expected for most jobs because private detective and investigator careers attract many qualified people, including relatively young retirees from law enforcement and military careers. The best opportunities for new jobseekers will be in entry-level jobs in detective agencies. Opportunities are expected to be favorable for qualified computer forensic investigators. ( 
Clearly, it may be attractive for investigations companies to hire police or military retirees. But as we know, these guys and gals don’t always make the best private sector employees. So you have an equal chance at success. So in this post, I’d like to offer some advice regarding how you can improve your chances of getting a entry-level job upon graduation.

So how do you, a student with a degree in, let’s say, in Philosophy, position yourself in the competitive job market against people with greater practical experience? By understanding the profession, obviously; which means doing things today that will improve your resume and demonstrate you understand the needs of a private agency. In short, you must show that you have both knowledge and technical expertise in areas that are valuable to a fledgling agency.

Most private investigators are relatively small outfits. In fact, very few agencies employ full-time staff. There are some investigations and consulting companies that employ thousands of people (e.g., Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations), but these fall largely within the niche of corporate investigations. The type of private investigations I’m writing about are those that do a variety of small business and domestic-type cases: employee theft, cheating spouse, missing persons, skip tracing, process serving, and, among other things, criminal defense.

Given their small size and increased exposure to the uncertainties of the external environment, private investigations want to hire agents that mitigate risk and uncertainty. Show them that you are trained (or easily trainable) and can do your job well without much oversight. In return, you’ll be compensated handsomely. Starting salaries typically range from $18-$25 per hour, and you will likely be making much more than this in just a few years—especially if you follow the advice below.

So how exactly how does a philosophy student become a private investigator? (Obviously, if your degree is in political science, international affairs, public relations, communications, etc., then you have to translate your background differently. It’s doable. If you don’t see exactly how, I’ve provided below a contact of a person who may be able to help you.)

  1. Like all jobs, you need to make a case for your fit within the profession. While some professions (e.g., accounting) have its own systems for vetting candidates (e.g., CPA licensure) and standardized curricula, there is not such standardization in the profession of private investigating. Agency owners, therefore, are persuadable.

    Like most folks, private investigators probably look at a philosophy degrees with a bit of suspicion. We want to hire someone who is going to be asking questions about the meaning of life when you should be asking “where is this guy going?” We want someone who can anticipate people’s moves, ask questions that elicit information, understand how to use maps, and use scientific reasoning to connect facts in order to draw conclusions in a case (wait, that sounds oddly like philosophy!).

    Our ignorance about philosophy degrees should not be your loss. This is why you need to inform us that there is a difference between an analytic philosopher and academic philosophers. We don’t realize, unless we’ve been informed as I have, that you’ve taken all those courses in logistics, which has sharpened your mind to the point that your degree is one of the most sought after in the United States
    by companies and government agencies like UPS, FedEx, the Security and Exchange Commission and the CIA (see Forbes article.In short, you have to sell us on your degree.

  2.  Book knowledge is important, of course. However, there are other technical skills that are important to good private investigations work, so you should take courses that give you these transferable skills. Courses like photography, writing (e.g., grant writing, short story writing), communications (e.g., conflict mediation, organizational dynamics), and foreign languages (especially Spanish) can be invaluable to us. If you’re not sure how your background can be translated to the field of private investigations, hire a life coach or personal consultant.

  3. Traditional students: Don’t forget the value of your age. While it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, and I am not advocating for this, there are times in our profession when age does matter. Under certain undercover situations, it is necessary to use a younger person. An old-looking private investigator walking into a bar full of college-age students is very inconspicuous (note the sarcasm). Thus, age is a bonafide occupational qualification. An agency must keep on staff younger private investigators in order to meet the changing demands of cases.

  4. Build your experience in our profession. There are ways in which you can increase your chances of getting a private investigations position. You’d be surprised how many people have never actually experienced the demanding work of surveillance. “I love watching people” does not qualify you to be a private investigator. In fact, if you said in your interview, “I hate watching people, but I know it’s easy money,” you’ll increase your chances of getting a job. How do you learn to love to hate surveillance? By doing it. I recommend that you job shadow a private investigator or offer to help a local private investigator on a few assignments (you know, one where they need a college-age face?) Don’t wait until you graduate!

  5. Start developing a list of contacts. Let’s face it, a private investigator wants you to be more than just an investigator. If you can bring a list of contacts to the organization that can help land future contracts, especially with insurance agents/adjusters, attorneys, and small businesses, then you are valuable. If you have a lot of contacts, you should consider negotiating a stipulation in your employment contract that assures that you get a percentage of all new sales you make. So start tapping into your social and professional network that exists on college campuses. Your faculty, your sorority sisters and fraternity brother, your classmates, and friends, likely can give you leads. If you develop a list of contacts and can show this to an investigator, your chances of getting a job will markedly increase.

  6.  Don’t over party. Okay, there may be some professions where a little jail time for a hard weekend of partying is not going to thwart your chances of getting a job. Private investigating is not one of them. By law, people with certain types of convictions are barred from the profession.

  7.  Attend conferences and associations. It’s never too late to actually take a course in private investigations or to attend any one of the several conferences available.

  8.  Read books about the profession. Here are some recommendations, and we’ll be posting reviews of others in the near future.

If you heed just some of the advice listed above, you’ll be in a much better position than other job candidates. If you’re a high quality person and are ambitious enough, you can help grow a small agency into a bigger one. In so doing, you will likely be rewarded through partnership.

College is a great time in your life; however, don’t forget to keep in mind that you need to start building and shaping your post-graduation career. The sooner you know what you want to do, the more opportunities you will have to craft your experiences into something valuable to potential employers.
If you’re serious about exploring career options, please feel free to call Dr. Craig Engstrom of Critical Hours Education Services. For a marginal fee, he’ll help you create a career action plan. His number is 314.732.1717.