What is a Private Investigator?

What is a private investigator? Many people imagine that these legal professionals spend their time solving crimes or engaging in exciting adventures. The actual life of a PI is often far less exciting than novels and movies make it out to be, however. Real private investigators work to find and analyze the legal, personal and financial facts for their clients. This may involve a lot of boring paperwork or require extensive time in uncomfortable conditions. They often spend a lot of their time making telephone calls and doing computer searches, though they may also interview key people or engage in surveillance. Private investigators are often responsible for collecting evidence to present in a court setting or to verify a set of facts. They can work for individuals, corporations or organizations, but most of these professionals specialize in one particular type of client. A private investigator may also be referred to as a private detective.

Degrees and Experience Needed

The specific education required to become a private investigator varies significantly by location and the individual. The majority of people in these jobs have attended college, though not all have a degree. Since many positions don’t require formal education, investigators may have a wide variety of actual qualifications. Some jobs do require a high school diploma or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Many aspiring professionals take courses in political science or criminal justice even if they don’t get a degree.

How Much Does a Private Investigator Make?

Private investigators average about $43,000 per year as of 2010, but the actual rate of compensation can vary significantly. This is because many people in this field work irregular hours and are self employed. They may also need to put in long hours in unusual settings. About 10 percent of private investigators make $25,760 or less every year, but another 10 percent make more than $75,000.

Future Prospects

The job outlook for people in this field is relatively good, with about 21 percent growth expected by 2020. An increase in security concerns and the desire to protect confidential data should cause heightened demand for the services of investigative professionals, especially as background checks become the norm for employment and many other day to day transactions. Private investigators can also expect to spend more of their time on the computer investigating online scams, financial fraud, identity theft and insurance frauds.

Despite improved prospects, private investigators can expect stiff competition in the field. This career attracts a wide range of people with excellent qualifications, making entry level positions in established agencies the best prospect for newcomers to the field. Related work experience, including excellent computer skills or a history of interviewing, can help private investigators stand out from the competition.

While the actuality may not look much like the movies, this kind of work is still highly appealing for motivated people who work well outside the box. Learning about this profession can be useful for more than just job seekers, however. If you’re ever asked “what is a private investigator?” you’ll be sure to know the answer!