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Career Advice

How to become a private investigator

That’s right, they aren’t just a figment of Hollywood’s over-active imagination…private investigators, or private detectives as they are sometimes known, really do exist!

As a result of their frequent appearances in films and TV shows you will no doubt have a preconceived notion of a typical private investigatorprivate detective… a gentleman sporting a beige trench coat, with an Indiana Jones style fedora hat, lurking in the shadows of a dimly lit street in the dead of night, waiting stealthily for an incriminating shot and possibly smoking a cigar…

As lovely and intriguing as this image is, the reality of being a private investigator is somewhat less cloak-and-dagger…

The Role

Private investigators can find themselves working in a wide range of environments. They will normally have a central office (agency) where they are based, but the nature of the work will regularly require traveling to other locations. The types of investigations which they undertake will be dependent upon the services that their agency offers but could include personal investigations, unofficial legal investigations and corporate investigations.

Private investigators are expected to have a flexible approach to their schedule as anti-social hours are almost always a prerequisite of the role, including evenings, nights and weekends.

Although the precise ins-and-outs of what you would be expected to do are difficult to pin down, since the role itself is so varied, here are a few of the things that you could be expected to do on a day-to-day basis:

  • Undercover work – Usually to gather information/evidence

  • Surveillance – This is most often used in personal investigations

  • Investigations of suspected  fraud – For example in insurance or accident claims

  • Investigations into the whereabouts of missing persons

  • Investigations into the whereabout of missing/stolen pets

  • Locating items which have been reported stolen

  • Investigating commercial piracy (production / sale of counterfeit goods)

  • Undertaking background checks on someone at the request of a client

Skills and personal attributes

It goes without saying that not everyone is suited to being a private investigator. It takes a person with a very specific skillskill-set to successfully carry out the work that is expected of them.   However it is agreed that the following skills and personal attributes can be beneficial in the building of a successful career as a private investigator:

  • An inquisitive mind

  • The ability to piece together fragments of information in order to come to an informed conclusion

  • A logical approach to work and particularly well developed problem solving skills

  • Excellent skills of observation, analysis and evaluation

  • Patience and determination

  • Highly developed skills of written and verbal communication

  • Self confidence and the ability to present your findings in a number of different settings including in court

  • A high level of honesty and personal integrity

  • The capability to work independently for long periods of time

  • Outstanding organisational competency- with the ability to manage a large workload and often to strict targets

  • The flexibility to undertake a non-traditional work schedule which can often include, evenings, nights and weekends.

  • Good computer literacy

  • Empathy with clients – this is particularly necessary as the information you find may be distressing for them

Due to the particular skillset which being a private investigator requires, it is often a choice for career change for people working in the police, armed forces, law and security.

Qualifications and Training

At the moment there are no qualifications which are legally required in order to operate as a private investigator, however on the whole the industry sets its own minimum standards which a person must adhere to before being able to progress their career.  There are also a number of professional bodies which unofficially oversee the conduct of registered members of the field including the World Association of Professional Investigators (http://www.wapi.com/), the Institute of Professional Investigators (http://www.ipi.org.uk/) and the Association of British Investigators (http://www.theabi.org.uk/).

Generally someone wishing to enter the field, who can demonstrate that they fit the personal specification, will gain a position within an agency as a ‘trainee private investigator’.  With the completion of a satisfactory probationary period the person will be offered in-house professional training as well as external qualifications.  Some of the official qualifications which are available to private investigators in the UK include:

  • Pearson EDI Level 3 Award for Professional Investigators

  • IQ Level 3 for Professional Investigators (Available from “Industry Qualifications” webpage http://www.industryqualifications.org.uk)

  • BTEC Level 3 Advanced Diploma in Private Investigation (Offered by the Academy of Professional Investigating) (http://www.pi-academy.com)

  • Foundation Course in Professional Investigating- (Offered by the Institute of professional investigators (http://www.ipitraining.org.uk/)

Of course it is also possible to set up independently as a private investigator in which case you will need the knowledge and ability to run your own businesses  as well as a sound understanding of information regulation and data protection.

Changes to governance and licensing

In July 2013 the UK government announced that it intends to increase the level of regulation of private investigation activities, starting some time in 2014. The changes which have been proposed would see the industry regulated by the SIA (Security Industry Authority) with anyone working in a private investigation capacity being required to hold a licence for this activity.

There are a number of provisos and exceptions which may be relevant, so check out the SIA (http://www.sia.homeoffice.gov.uk/Pages/licensing-private-investigations.aspx) webpage for further details on the changes that will be taking place.

If you still fancy a new career as a private investigator then good luck!  But if the thought of piecing together all that information makes your head hurt, then why not check out some of the other careers in our fab career directory?



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