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Private Detectives and Investigators

Earnings Potential

The average annual earnings of private detectives and investigators are $32,110. The top detectives make upwards of $60,000 while the lowest distribution makes less than $20,000 on an annual basis.

Facts at a glance

  • If you have a criminal record, you will have a lot of trouble getting into this career for obvious reasons
  • The work can be very dangerous and confrontational at times
  • Many private detectives are self employed and work based on assignments
  • You will need a lot of patience and quick thinking as most assignments are hard to structure


One of the most popular characters to give way to this career was Sherlock Holmes.  He was a fictional literary private detective that had a partner named Watson and they constantly solved crimes and complaints, many of whom were created by Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty.  An American detective icon is Dick Tracy.  He started out as a comic strip and then was later made into a popular movie under the same name.  Children-wise, the most recognizable name for a detective would be Inspector Gadget.  A more modern concept of private detectives and investigators has now taken over.  Many investigators now work for attorneys and businesses as well as public inquiries.  Legal and law industries are the most prominent clients since they have many disputes and cases to take care of.  Former law enforcement, military, and government personnel tend to enter this field as a second career for fun or extra income. 

Details of work

Their types of work typically involve surveillance, searches, questioning, background checks and a multitude of other ways to gather information for their clients. Since private detectives rarely deal with the criminal apprehension process, it is not required for them to carry around weapons, although many may still choose to.  Being computer savvy can be a valuable asset if you are required to run background checks or uncovering historical facts.  Travel is almost always required and proper geographic knowledge would be a great asset.  It is advised that private detectives specialize in a certain field.  The categories are typically legal, corporate or financial. Hours are often improvised as they are adjusted for the assignments type of need. Logical thinking, quick thinking, communication, and researching are the most common skills needed for this career. 

Degrees that lead to this career

Although being a private detective or investigator does not require you to have a college degree, having one in law enforcement or legal services would definitely raise credibility. Many states in the U.S. have licenses for private detectives.  The licenses vary by state and usually include written exams, background checks and age requirements.

Career Opportunities

Even though competition is high and demand is still relatively low, this profession is estimated to grow faster than average. As more corporations grow, the loss prevention and crime deterrent sections will allocate more money for hard to reach information and research.