How Snooping Can Point to a Career as a Private Detective

Do you love watching criminal and justice shows? Pick the twist in the latest Law and Order episode? Know who the Brooklyn 99 perp was before Jake and Amy figured it out?

There are people who have a knack for finding out information. Whether it’s trawling the internet, social media pages or simply asking the right kind of questions, some people are just natural detectives. A thirst for information and a desire to help others get to the bottom of mysteries are two key characteristics required for those wanting to become private detectives. It’s an intriguing line of work.

But before jumping onto the detective bandwagon, there are a few things you should understand.

What exactly is a private investigator?

In Australia, private investigators or private detectives carry out investigations on behalf of individuals, lawyers or corporations. This may be to catch a cheating spouse, uncover insurance fraud or even for those wanting to find out more about a potential partner before diving into the relationship deep end.

Governed by state and national laws, private investigators have a unique skill set, and use this to find the information required. This may mean using photographic evidence, sifting through public records or even talking to those under investigation to encourage them to reveal the information themselves. Another characteristic many private investigators possess is an ability to identify when someone is telling a lie.

Private investigators are encouraged to work ethically and most definitely have to work within the realms of the law.

Importantly, private investigators are not police officers. While some police officers do become private investigators, that’s about where the commonalities end. Police officers can make official legal arrests, obtain warrants and enforce laws. Private investigators have the same rights and privileges as a private citizen, meaning they can only make a citizen’s arrest. Of course, training requirements, salaries and job opportunities also vastly differ.

Requirements to become a private investigator

There are certain courses or traineeships required to become a private investigator. It’s also a good idea to get some work experience with a private investigation firm where you can learn the skills on site and get first-hand, on-the-job, real-world experience.

There are also certain skills that while not a requirement, are good to have in order to succeed as a private investigator. You’ll need to be a good communicator, have excellent observation and listening skills, be able to work independently but also as part of a team, and have no criminal record or other convictions. The last point will prevent you from getting a licence.

Training courses may cover such as criminal psychology, starting an investigation, how to trace a missing person, how to handle domestic cases, counter-surveillance, commercial espionage or fraud, and how to search public record systems. 

In terms of what happens once you have your qualifications, there are a couple of main options – work for a firm or be your own boss. Your earning potential will depend which way you decide to go. The most common field an Australian private investigator would work in is surveillance which can see you bring in a salary of anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000 depending on your experience and how much work you have. Importantly though, many private investigators are paid on an hourly basis rather than via salary. The hourly rate would include any work conducted, travel time, and report writing time, and generally speaking, you will be reimbursed for any travel expenses including mileage.

Is it as glamorous as it looks?

Magnum PI, Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels sure have a lot to answer for. The television shows make investigations seem pretty cool. But is it as glamorous as it appears? Don’t be fooled by the allure though. Being a private investigator takes hard work and commitment. There will be days when all you’ll do is sort through paperwork to try and find a missing link or a strange statement that can prove a point. There’ll be other days when you’re talking to several different people trying to find answers.

Of course, there are some perks too. Being a private investigator means you can often set your own hours, decide which clients to take on and decide which jobs to do. There is a freedom and flexibility not afforded to those who work for someone else. On the flip side though, there is also not the same level of security.

Moving forward

If you over-analyse the motives of those around you, love watching a good law or police show, really think about the trail you’re leaving behind wherever you go anywhere, and can pick a bad guy before the good guys figure it out, it’s a good indication that you’ve got the investigative streak in your bones

If you decide to follow your investigative instincts and enrol in a course to become a fully-fledged private investigator, it’s a good idea to sign up for the relevant courses, join any private investigator networking institutes and start chatting to some private investigator firms to find out more information.

The good news is, freelance jobs are on the rise and it’s becoming much more common than you think to work from home and be your own boss. Take the time to gain the skills you need to participate in the gig economy. Find out how ICI can help you become the next Magnum PI

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Gladys Mae


Gladys Mae serves as the General Manager and Head of Student Services at the International Career Institute. Gladys holds a degree in Mass Communication - Broadcast Media from the University of San Jose-Recoletos. She joined ICI in 2010 and has over the past 12 years been instrumental in providing leadership and guidance to staff and students alike. Prior to joining ICI Gladys led a multifaceted career with key roles in the banking and business process outsourcing industries.