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Become An Investigator

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Working As An Investigator

  • Getting Information
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Interacting With Computers
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • Mostly Sitting

  • Make Decisions

  • Stressful

  • $94,360

    Average Salary

What Does An Investigator Do

Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

Duties

Private detectives and investigators typically do the following:

  • Interview people to gather information
  • Search public or court records to uncover clues 
  • Conduct surveillance
  • Collect evidence to present in court or to a client
  • Verify employment and income
  • Check for civil judgments and criminal history
  • Investigate computer crimes and information theft

Private detectives and investigators offer many services for individuals, attorneys, and businesses. Examples are performing background checks, investigating employees for possible theft from a company, proving or disproving infidelity in a divorce case, and helping to locate a missing person.

Private detectives and investigators use a variety of tools when researching the facts in a case. Much of their work is done with a computer, allowing them to obtain information such as telephone numbers, details about social networks, descriptions of online activities, and records of a person’s prior arrests. They make phone calls to verify facts and interview people when conducting a background investigation.

Investigators may go undercover to observe people and to obtain information.

Detectives also conduct surveillance when investigating a case. They may watch locations, such as a person’s home or office, often from a hidden position. Using cameras and binoculars, detectives gather information on people of interest.

Detectives and investigators must be mindful of the law when conducting investigations. Because they lack police authority, their work must be done with the same authority as a private citizen. As a result, they must have a good understanding of federal, state, and local laws, such as privacy laws, and other legal issues affecting their work. Otherwise, evidence they collect may not be useable in court and they could face prosecution.

The following are examples of types of private detectives and investigators:

Computer forensics investigators specialize in recovering, analyzing, and presenting information from computers to be used as evidence. Many focus on recovering deleted emails and documents. 

Legal investigators help prepare criminal defenses, verify facts in civil lawsuits, locate witnesses, and serve legal documents. They often work for lawyers and law firms.

Corporate investigators conduct internal and external investigations for corporations. Internally, they may investigate drug use in the workplace or ensure that expense accounts are not abused. Externally, they may try to identify and stop criminal schemes, such as fraudulent billing by a supplier.

Financial investigators may be hired to collect financial information on individuals and companies attempting to make large financial transactions. These investigators are often certified public accountants (CPAs) who work closely with investment bankers and other accountants. Investigators might search for assets to recover damages awarded by a court in fraud and theft cases.

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How To Become An Investigator

Private detectives and investigators typically need several years of work experience in law enforcement or the military. Workers must also have a high school diploma, and the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license.

Education

Education requirements vary greatly with the job, but most jobs require a high school diploma. Some, though, may require a 2- or 4-year degree in a field such as criminal justice or police science. 

Corporate investigators typically need a bachelor’s degree. Often, coursework in finance, accounting, and business is preferred. Because many financial investigators have an accounting background, they typically have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field and may be certified public accountants (CPAs). 

Computer forensics investigators often need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or criminal justice. Some colleges and universities now offer certificate programs in computer forensics, and others offer a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.

Training

Most private detectives and investigators learn through on-the-job experience, often lasting several years.

Although new investigators must learn how to gather information, additional training depends on the type of firm that hires them. For instance, at an insurance company, a new investigator will learn on the job how to recognize insurance fraud. Corporate investigators hired by large companies may receive formal training in business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics. 

Because computer forensics specialists need to both use computers and possess investigative skills, extensive training may be required. Many learn their trade while working for a law enforcement agency for several years. At work, they are taught how to gather evidence and spot computer-related crimes.

Continuing education is important for computer forensics investigators because they work with changing technologies. Investigators must learn the latest methods of fraud detection and new software programs. Many accomplish this task by attending conferences and courses offered by software vendors and professional associations.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Private detectives and investigators typically must have previous work experience, usually in law enforcement, the military, or federal intelligence. Those in such jobs, who are frequently able to retire after 20 or 25 years of service, may become private detectives or investigators in a second career.

Other private detectives and investigators previously may have worked for insurance or collections companies, as paralegals, in finance, or in accounting.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license. Requirements vary with the state. Professional Investigator Magazine has links to each state’s licensing requirements. Because laws often change, jobseekers should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with the state and locality in which they want to work.

In most states, detectives and investigators who carry handguns must meet additional requirements.

Although there are no licenses specific to computer forensics investigators, some states require them to be licensed private investigators. Even in states and localities where they are not required to be licensed, having a private investigator license is useful because it allows computer forensics investigators to perform related investigative work. 

Candidates may also obtain certification, although it is not required for employment. Still, becoming certified through professional organizations can demonstrate competence and may help candidates advance in their careers.

For investigators who specialize in negligence or criminal defense investigation, the National Association of Legal Investigators offers the Certified Legal Investigator certification. For investigators who specialize in security, ASIS International offers the Professional Certified Investigator certification.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Private detectives and investigators must listen carefully and ask appropriate questions when interviewing a person of interest.

Decisionmaking skills. Private detectives and investigators must be able to think on their feet and make quick decisions, based on the limited information that they have at a given time.

Inquisitiveness. Private detectives and investigators must want to ask questions and search for the truth.

Patience. Private detectives and investigators may have to spend long periods conducting surveillance while waiting for an event to occur. Investigations may take a long time, and they may not provide a resolution quickly—or at all.

Resourcefulness. Private detectives and investigators must work persistently with whatever leads they have, no matter how limited, to determine the next step toward their goal. They sometimes need to anticipate what a person of interest will do next.

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Investigator Jobs

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Investigator Career Paths

Investigator
Security Specialist Security Manager Loss Prevention Manager
Area Loss Prevention Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Operations Director Chief Of Operations
Chief Deputy
8 Yearsyrs
Lieutenant Security Manager
Chief Of Security
8 Yearsyrs
Captain Registered Nurse Clinical Manager
Clinical Operations Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Construction Manager Contracts Manager
Contractor, Program Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Lieutenant Security Supervisor Security Manager
Corporate Security Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Security Manager Security Director
Director Of Public Safety
11 Yearsyrs
Patrol Sergeant Lieutenant Security Manager
Director, Corporate Security
11 Yearsyrs
Chief Of Police Security Officer Loss Prevention Manager
Director-Loss Prevention
9 Yearsyrs
Security Manager Loss Prevention Manager
District Loss Prevention Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Security Specialist Security Supervisor Loss Prevention Agent
Loss Prevention Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Specialist Security Officer
Loss Prevention Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
Operations Manager Branch Manager
Manager, Assistant Vice President
7 Yearsyrs
Social Worker Program Manager Chief Operating Officer
President & Chief Operating Officer
13 Yearsyrs
Assistant Director Producer Managing Editor
Publications Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Loss Prevention Manager District Loss Prevention Manager
Regional Loss Prevention Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Operations Manager General Manager Security Officer
Security Director
10 Yearsyrs
Captain Security Officer Security Supervisor
Security Operations Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Loss Prevention Manager Operations Manager Human Resources Manager
Senior Human Resources Manager
10 Yearsyrs
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Help others decide if this is a good career for them

Average Length of Employment
Chief Investigator 5.6 years
Fraud Investigator 3.5 years
Lead Investigator 3.4 years
Claim Investigator 3.3 years
Investigator 3.0 years
Field Investigator 3.0 years
Case Investigator 2.9 years
Top Employers Before
Internship 10.6%
Supervisor 4.1%
Manager 3.7%
Sergeant 3.7%
Detective 3.7%
Officer 3.3%
Instructor 2.6%
Top Employers After
Supervisor 5.9%
Manager 5.7%
Internship 5.5%
Consultant 5.1%
Sergeant 4.8%
Instructor 4.3%
Owner 3.6%
Detective 3.0%

Do you work as an Investigator?

Investigator Demographics

Gender

Male

53.4%

Female

43.9%

Unknown

2.8%
Ethnicity

White

58.2%

Hispanic or Latino

17.8%

Black or African American

11.9%

Asian

8.3%

Unknown

3.8%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

60.2%

French

7.4%

German

4.3%

Mandarin

3.4%

Russian

3.4%

Chinese

3.4%

Arabic

3.0%

Portuguese

2.3%

Italian

2.1%

Korean

1.4%

Japanese

1.4%

Hindi

1.2%

Carrier

1.1%

Ukrainian

0.8%

Greek

0.8%

Cantonese

0.8%

Urdu

0.8%

Polish

0.8%

Thai

0.7%

Vietnamese

0.4%
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Investigator Education

Schools

University of Phoenix

20.0%

The Academy

6.9%

John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York

5.5%

Kaplan University

5.4%

Texas A&M University

5.0%

Capella University

4.9%

Walden University

4.8%

University of Houston

4.6%

University of North Texas

4.5%

Liberty University

4.3%

Sam Houston State University

4.2%

Northeastern University

4.1%

Texas State University

3.9%

University of South Florida

3.4%

Troy University

3.2%

Florida State University

3.2%

Pennsylvania State University

3.2%

Michigan State University

3.1%

University of Cincinnati

3.0%

Temple University

3.0%
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Majors

Criminal Justice

33.8%

Business

13.7%

Law

6.6%

Psychology

6.5%

Social Work

5.1%

Law Enforcement

3.3%

Political Science

3.0%

Sociology

2.9%

Management

2.8%

Nursing

2.5%

Public Administration

2.2%

Biology

2.2%

Accounting

2.2%

Education

2.1%

Legal Support Services

2.1%

Criminology

1.9%

Counseling Psychology

1.8%

Human Resources Management

1.8%

Finance

1.7%

Health Care Administration

1.6%
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Degrees

Bachelors

37.6%

Masters

23.1%

Other

18.7%

Doctorate

8.0%

Associate

7.0%

Certificate

4.6%

Diploma

0.6%

License

0.3%
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Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Real Investigator Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Assistant Investigator General Hospital Corporation Boston, MA Jan 03, 2016 $175,000
Investigator II Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research Inc. Cambridge, MA Jul 16, 2015 $145,000
Assistant Investigator General Hospital Corporation Boston, MA Jan 10, 2016 $127,000
Assistant Investigator General Hospital Corporation Boston, MA Oct 01, 2016 $127,000
Investigator General Hospital Corporation MA Aug 08, 2016 $126,138
Investigator Los Angeles Biomedical Research at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Torrance, CA Jan 08, 2016 $125,000
Investigator II Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Inc. Cambridge, MA Nov 18, 2016 $120,819
Investigator II Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Inc. Cambridge, MA Apr 18, 2016 $120,000
Investigator II Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Inc. Cambridge, MA Aug 16, 2016 $120,000
Investigator II Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Inc. Cambridge, MA Oct 09, 2016 $119,768
Investigator II Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research Inc. Cambridge, MA Jul 16, 2015 $118,764
Investigator Baylor Research Institute Dallas, TX Jan 02, 2016 $117,500
Investigator Brigham and Women's Hospital Boston, MA Jan 15, 2016 $117,300
Visiting Investigator Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center New York, NY Sep 01, 2015 $90,000
Investigator Stiefel Laboratories, Inc. Parkton, NC Jun 23, 2015 $89,170 -
$148,300
Investigator Glaxosmithkline, LLC King of Prussia, PA Sep 05, 2016 $88,546 -
$151,250
Investigator Glaxosmithkline LLC King of Prussia, PA Feb 09, 2016 $88,546 -
$126,000
Visiting Investigator Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center New York, NY Jan 07, 2016 $84,834
Investigator Glaxosmithkline LLC King of Prussia, PA Nov 21, 2015 $84,760 -
$160,300
Process Investigator Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp Point, PA Apr 04, 2016 $82,950
Assistant Investigator Baylor Research Institute Dallas, TX Jan 05, 2016 $80,475 -
$113,700
Investigator Brigham and Women's Hospital Cambridge, MA Sep 01, 2015 $70,000
Investigator Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates Inc. Boston, MA Apr 01, 2015 $70,000
Investigator Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates Inc. Boston, MA Mar 01, 2015 $70,000
Investigator Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates Inc. Boston, MA Jan 11, 2016 $67,280
Assistant Investigator Marshall University Research Corporation Huntington, WV Jan 02, 2016 $67,000
Investigator General Hospital Corporation MA May 17, 2016 $66,221
Quality Investigator TEVA Parenteral Medicines Irvine, CA Sep 11, 2015 $65,770 -
$117,600

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Top Skills for An Investigator

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  1. Background Checks
  2. Law Enforcement
  3. Child
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Conducted clinic investigations, statement recordings, accident scene photography/diagramming, vehicle inspection/photos, witness location and background checks.
  • Collaborated with Federal/State law enforcement agencies/media/community.
  • Facilitate child placement and transition in event of substantiated or inconclusive allegation findings.
  • Processed information from phone and in-person interviews and reviewed client documentation for irregularities and possible fraud.
  • Conducted surveillance/investigations of suspected fraudulent liability, personal injury, workers' compensation and due diligence claims.

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Top 10 Best States for Investigators

  1. District of Columbia
  2. Nevada
  3. Maryland
  4. California
  5. New Jersey
  6. Virginia
  7. New Mexico
  8. Idaho
  9. Michigan
  10. Massachusetts
  • (43 jobs)
  • (19 jobs)
  • (66 jobs)
  • (379 jobs)
  • (107 jobs)
  • (109 jobs)
  • (23 jobs)
  • (9 jobs)
  • (143 jobs)
  • (108 jobs)

Top Investigator Employers

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