how to become a private investigator

Every state will have a different Private Investigator License process. PI Now has a great page on how to become a private investigator. Below we’ve outlined the basic steps that you need to take.

How to Become a Private Investigator

Step #1: Get a Private Investigator License

You must check with the Secretary of State in your state to determine the precise requirements for you to become a Private Investigator.

The PI Now Network has assembled helpful resource to save you some time in your research. Check out your state requirements HERE.

Step #2: Get a Private Investigator Bond

A Private Investigator Bond is required by law and must be purchased before you can begin operating as a PI. These bonds are not insurance for you, but rather a protection for the residents of a given state.

The purpose of a Private Investigator Bond is to support the laws that are in place to protect the public from negligent, dishonest, or damaging actions. The Private Investigator Bond amount will vary depending on the state you are in.

You won’t have to pay the full Private Investigator Bond amount to get bonded. You’ll only pay a small percentage of the total bond amount. The best way to see what you’d pay is to get a free quote. At Surety Solutions, our online Bond Cost Calculator lets you view quotes for your bond so you can compare prices before you buy.

We can get you bonded for as low as $100.

Get your free Private Investigator Bond quotes

Step #3: Gain Experience as a Private Investigator

  • Volunteer. Becoming a Private Investigator is easier said than done. Sometimes the best way to gain valuable experience as a Private Investigator is to shadow a working investigator. This affords you real world experience when you have none. In many cases, this is your best option if you are unable to secure clients or a position with an Agency due to lack of experience. Doing the grunt work for a more experienced Agent teaches you the basics while helping him/her. This is a win-win for both parties if you can secure this situation.
  • Attend Online Courses. These courses are relatively affordable and promise sound training in online and offline surveillance, interview and interrogation technique, undercover tactics, and other necessary skills.
  • Attend College-Level Courses. Most of these programs require a high school diploma, textbooks, and exams. These courses may also serve as a primary for more robust degrees in Criminal Justice or Forensic Science.
  • Network within Private Investigator Associations. Spending time around experienced Private Investigators will be invaluable in your development. Here is a trusted list of private investigator associations by State complied by

how to become a private investigator

Step #4: Build Your Reputation by Adding Value

Are you relentless in chasing down leads? Do you enjoy interviewing sources? Are you good at detailed analysis of documents? If you do these things well for an extended period of time you can expect to become a private investigator that people trust. You will provide a viable service to others. A service they are willing to pay for. But how do you go about becoming a private investigator when you have no avenue to build this kind of experience?

Build Relationships with Attorneys

  • Attend Attorney Association Events. You must hang out where your target persona(s) are. In this case, Attorneys are your most direct line to new business. Wherever attorneys are gathered, be there. Add value first. Give them referrals. Ask for more of their business cards to be handed out liberally. Give them endorsements on LinkedIn. Do whatever you can to build up the business of all the attorneys you have in your network. And constantly grow your network of attorneys.
  • Ask for Referrals from Attorneys. Once you have built up a solid track record and have created value for local Attorneys, you can begin to ask them for referrals.
  • Advertise in Attorney Publications (e.g. State Bar Magazine). In many States, every Attorney is required to join and pay dues to the State Bar Association. This membership includes, among other things, a subscription to the State Bar Magazine. Advertising your Private Investigator services in these magazines is an effective way to get in front of several Attorneys in one shot.
  • Educate Attorney’s on the Value of Private Investigators. If you are adept at public speaking, this can be a viable way to qualify yourself as an expert and carry business from Attorneys. They will find value in the educational content you provide and you will become a trusted Private Investigator for them to refer business to in the future.

Build a Solid Web-Presence

With so much business being done online, everyone has to be an Online Marketing Expert for your niche. Or you will need to outsource this to a trusted company who can help you. Effective marketing companies will help you rank high in Google, build effective landing pages, nurture leads with auto-emails, and Blog to educate and generate leads.

Speak at Local Business Networking Events

This is a great opportunity to let business owners of every kind know about the value of more extensive background checks. If they have ever been burned, and many of them have, they will be especially receptive to your presentation. Add value to their business.

Step #5: Understand Where the Work Is

Criminal cases might be interesting. Many people who want to become Private Investigators imagine themselves catching the career criminal who has thus far alluded the authorities. Or bringing down an entire crime ring with ingenious investigative technique. That may happen occasionally, but most of the money is in domestic work.

In other words, there are more people committing adultery than murder. You will need to track cheating spouses more often than career killers. You will be doing routine background checks more than all-night stake-outs. Pre-employment background checks require private investigators to ask questions like, Is there any criminal history? Are there any issues that an employer should know about?

Examples of professions that might be particularly interested in background checks:

  •          Money Handling (Treasurer, CFO, etc)
  •          Personal Care (Nanny, Hospice, etc)
  •          Public Officials (Fire Chief, Police Chief, etc)

What Kind of “Dirt” are Private Investigators looking for in Background Check investigations?

  •          Falsifying Education History (Remember George O’Learly at Notre Dame?)
  •          Falsifying Work History
  •          Falsifying Licensing or Credentials 
  •          Falsifying Criminal History (What felony?)

What does falsifying history look like? People will occasionally inflate their education/professional history on a resume or application to appear more qualified than they actually are. Others will omit work history where they know they are likely to get a bad reference. The Private investigator is tasked with analyzing all of the available data on an individual to discover “holes” in their story or inconsistencies that need to be further explored.

If this kind of work does not interest you, perhaps you should reconsider becoming a Private Investigator.

Related Links:

Massachusetts Private Investigator License

Virginia Private Investigator License

Utah Private Investigator License

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