By Colleen Collins, Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc.
Many people are curious how private investigators (PIs) get into the profession and assume most were former cops (and they’re right-a majority of PIs are former law enforcement officers). Realistically speaking, most PIs enter the profession by either interning for an established private investigative agency or by having held an investigative position within the military or law enforcement. Most being a key word. There are various specialized skills within the investigative business that don’t require such backgrounds (some PIs were former certified public accountants [CPAs] and specialize in financial investigations, some might have backgrounds training dogs and specialize as pet detectives, some were paralegals and specialize in legal investigations, etc.).
But whatever a person’s background, the common traits found in all good PIs are curiosity, creativity, and perseverance. A strong sense of justice certainly helps, but sometimes the best that can be hoped for is that the legal process is conducted fairly.
That said, below are five tips to consider if you’re pursuing the idea of being a private investigator:
Tip #1: Research investigative specialties and decide which ones you want specialize in. For example, PIs specialize in many different areas such as accident investigation, asset search/recovery, civil litigation support, criminal defense investigations, locating missing persons, loss prevention, skiptracing, tenant screening, and many more. One way to learn about the various investigative specialties is to research PIs’ websites–for example, in your browser, type private investigator or the field you’re interested in, such as loss prevention. On their site, a PI will typically explain his/her background, a definition of the services they offer, prices, etc.
Tip #2: Attend a PI conference. Most professional PI organizations sponsor conferences that are open to the public. Here you can network with other PIs, attend seminars, test equipment, buy manuals, and more. PI Magazine, for example, always lists upcoming conferences–buy a copy and check out one near you.
Tip #3: Read books on investigations. There are hundreds of books on topics, from background investigations to identity theft to personal injury investigations. One resource for investigative books is PIstore.com: http://www.pistore.com/
Tip #4: Take an investigative course. Most states have professional PI organizations that offer courses, which are often open to the public. If they don’t offer educational classes, contact a member and ask what courses he/she might recommend. To look up your state’s PI organization, and its licensing requirements, go to http://www.crimetime.com/licensing.htm
Tip #5. Polish your speaking and writing skills. As a PI, you’ll be in contact with many people, from presenting your investigative skills to potential employers to interviewing witnesses. The better you present yourself verbally, the better your business successes. You’ll also be writing a lot of reports, so the better your grammar, punctuation, and writing style, the better your business successes.
The above tips will help you hone and polish your skills toward being not just a private investigator, but a professional private investigator.
Colleen Collins is a professional private investigator and multi-published author. She and her business partner run Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc., based in Colorado, which specializes in asset/background checks, criminal/civil investigations, domestic relations, financial fraud, personal injury, skiptracing, and surveillance. To read more about their services, go to http://www.highlandsinvestigations.com