Private Investigator

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Private Investigator


Everyone likes snooping. Sneaking peeks in peoples' diaries, opening medicine cabinets, listening in on phone calls, holding your breath so your sister doesn't guess you're there. Professional snoopers, the ones who've mastered all the tricks and can get any information from anyone, anywhere, are private investigators. These individuals have taken snooping to a whole new level.

PIs are hired by lots of different kinds of people. From clients who want to know if their wives have been unfaithful to company presidents who think an employee is stealing millions, private investigators can find out anything. Sometimes, they work alone, but usually they are members of an investigation agency. Often, PIs will specialize in one area, like financial or corporate fraud.

In order to get the information requested by the clients, PIs will eavesdrop on conversations and take photographs. However, their techniques don't always have to seem invasive: often, all it takes to solving an investigation is interviewing witnesses, and searching court records and newspapers, as well as other sources which are publicly accessible. They may also investigate crime and accident scenes, submitting any clues to laboratories for analysis.

They also use the Internet to search for information, connecting with databases and searching for information that way. They may dress in disguise, or spend hours trailing the suspect, to determine routines and behaviors which may indicate guilt or involvement in inappropriate activities.

PIs must write detailed reports for their clients regularly, informing them about what they have learned, even if it confirms the suspicions, or contradicts them. PIs strive to uncover the truth--it is up to the client to decide what to do with the information.

Private investigators need to work hard to stay in business. Most agencies will ensure that their employees have phones, radios, and pagers, so that clients and witnesses can contact them at any time, anywhere. Clients who feel the investigator is respectful and dedicated to the case will appreciate the attention, and come back to the agency to use them again. It also is beneficial if the investigator has a good knowledge of the legal system, because much of the investigations deal with legal, as well as moral, issues.
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  Interests and Skills  
A potential private investigator should first and foremost have personal integrity--they need to know when it is appropriate to continue investigating, and when they have crossed the line. They should be physically fit, with a lot of stamina. Private investigators must have good communication skills, as well as being polite and tactful. They require excellent memories and the ability to adapt to new situations. They must work well independently, as well as be able to initiate and adapt plans. They should be inquisitive, organized, and have excellent research skills. Private investigators must also be assertive, discreet and determined to get the job done.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Use various methods to complete a background check on subject of investigation
  • Question witnesses about missing persons
  • Follow or watch an individual for a few hours or days
  • Examine crime scenes for clues, submit findings to labs for analysis
  • Write reports of investigations for clients
  • It isn't easy to describe the everyday life of a PI. Most days are filled with routine business: contacting clients, updating case reports, gathering information. Their most interesting days will be spent in active surveillance, in character disguise, tracking individuals, conducting interviews, and searching public records for relevant information. They will be in contact with police, lawyers, and people related to the subject though business, social, or family history. A private investigator rarely uses a weapon; the majority of cases are safe.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Private investigators work for private agencies, or are self-employed. Their services are used by the government, lawyers, corporations, and private citizens. They will work primarily out of an office, but during active searching they will be required to work just about anywhere, including outside, in all types of weather. They may specialize in one area, like embezzled funds and company finances, or work exclusively in the realm of criminal cases.
  • The work is stressful, and potentially dangerous. They can work at any time, including late nights and early mornings. They may be required to travel, and should always be prepared for a night out in the car, or a search of a dusty file storage space.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Private investigators employed by an agency can always specialize in an area of investigation, and move on to be the chief investigator of that department, or they can leave the agency and begin one of their own. They may also choose to get more education, and become a police officer or a lawyer. They can also write detective books, or scripts for television and film, based on their experiences as a private investigator.

  Educational Paths  
Private investigators can work without a license, but it is not recommended. Getting your license depends on who issues it to you--some require you to be employed with a licensed agency, while others require you to have taken a course or program with a recognized school. It is a good idea to contact a few agencies in your area and ask them where they recommend taking courses, and the requirements for registering.

Some agencies will require investigators have valid first aid and CPR certificates, hold drivers' licenses, and own a car. Most agencies will offer additional classes to their investigators on staff.

Usually, but not always, the people who become PIs have a background in police work or the military, or they may have spent years working in finance and corporations. Any background in business or law will help you in your investigations, and many agencies look for this kind of relevant experience when they do their hiring.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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