Most private detectives learn on the job. 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 to recognize insurance fraud. Learning by doing, in which new investigators are put on cases and gain skills as they go, is a common approach. Corporate investigators hired by large companies, however, may receive formal training in business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics.
Private detectives usually have some university education. Although some investigation jobs may not have specific education requirements, others require candidates to have a high school diploma.
Postsecondary courses in criminal justice and political science are helpful to aspiring private detectives and investigators. Although previous work experience is generally required, some people enter the occupation directly after graduating from college with an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or police science.
Corporate investigators typically need a bachelor’s degree. Coursework in finance, accounting, and business is often preferred. Because many financial investigators have an accountant’s background, they typically have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field.
Many computer forensics investigators need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as computer science or criminal justice. Many colleges and universities now offer certificate programs in computer forensics, and others offer a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. Because computer forensics specialists need both computer skills and investigative skills, extensive training may be required. Many computer forensic investigators learn their trade while working for a law enforcement agency, where they are taught how to gather evidence and to spot computer-related crimes. Many people enter law enforcement to get this training and to establish a reputation before moving on to the private sector.
Private detectives typically have previous work experience. Some have worked for insurance or collections companies, as paralegals, in finance, or in accounting. Many investigators enter the field after serving in law enforcement, the military, or federal intelligence jobs. These people, who frequently are able to retire after 25 years of service, often become private detectives or investigators as a second career.
Because laws change, jobseekers should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with their jurisdiction and locality in which they want to work. There are no licenses specifically for computer forensic investigators, but some places require them to be licensed private investigators. Even in localities where licensure is not required, having a private investigator license is useful, because it allows computer forensic investigators to do follow-up and related investigative work.