According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of private investigations is projected to grow by 22% over the next decade.
Although the field is growing, competition for employment is keen. Agency owners receive several calls a month from people who say, “I’d like to be a private investigator.” But most of these callers do not have the qualifications to become a private investigator or fail to grab the agency owner’s attention. Truth be told, an investigative agency that finds a qualified individual will often create a part-time position for him or her. Given the high turnover rate in the profession, such individuals will likely move quickly into a full time position.
This blog entry is designed to help you increase your chances of getting hired by a private detective agency and help you prepare for life on the job.
First, and most importantly, before calling an investigator about employment, make sure you qualify in your state to be a field investigator for a private agency. These rules vary by state. In Texas, for example, you are typically disqualified if you have a felony conviction, but you can obtain a field license without any specialized courses as long as you are 18 years old. The investigative agency will sponsor you. In Illinois, however, you have to be 21 years or older and complete a 20-hour course to qualify for work with a licensed agency.
Second, consider whether you really can work as a private investigator. Unless you have some special training in law, accounting, or computer forensics, you are not likely going to be an investigator with a nine-to-five schedule. If you happen to know accounting, you may be able to work as a fraud examiner with a more stable schedule. But it’s more likely that you are someone who does not have much formal training in investigative work. That is fine, but you’re going to work primarily for an agency as a surveillance specialist. The needs for surveillance-related work are high, so it is a great way to get started with an agency when you don’t have many specialized skills. But be forewarned: The hours are erratic and you will likely need to work every weekend from early evening to early morning (1600 hours to 0300 hours). You will have weeks that are busy and weeks that are slow. What this means is that some weeks you will not sleep much and other weeks you won’t have income. Does this sound okay for you? If it does, then this is something you should tell an agency owner. But you have to follow through. If you work hard, you’ll likely get to do other things and move up in the company. Eventually, you may even qualify for your own agency license. But answer this question truthfully: Are you willing to forgo your personal life for a few years? As a “part-time” employee you won’t work a set 20- hours-per-week schedule, you’ll be called upon at various times in the week. If you say you can’t go to work too often, then you’ll stop receiving calls for work.
Third, when you do call an agency owner and he or she asks you why you want (or are qualified) to be a private investigator, do not reply in any way similar to the following: “I’ve always thought it would be cool to be a private investigator,” “I like the shows Cheaters and Sex Decoys and would like to do this work,” “I just need a job and I’ve always been good at snooping on my neighbors.” Many people say this and it is not impressive. Consider more deeply what special skills or knowledge you can bring to an agency and start there: “I know how to operate a camera, can drive defensively, and have a great deal of common sense—you know, those things that can make you good at doing surveillance work.”
Fourth, prepare yourself. You can begin your career as a private investigator without a college degree. However, this does not mean you do not have to educate yourself about rules, laws, and regulations. If you still believe that you’d make a great investigator after all you’ve read, you can impress an agency owner with your knowledge of laws. For self-education, the you can find great books on Amazon.com.
While this information cannot guarantee employment, it is likely going to help your chances. Being a private investigator can be rewarding, but it takes a great deal of hard work, specific knowledge, and practice to succeed.
If you’d like know if a career in private investigations is good for you or would like a training opportunity, contact Craig Engstrom of Critical Hours Educational Services (618.203.1997). He can send you a free brochure about professional shadowing opportunities. CHES offers opportunities to shadow private investigators in order to learn about field procedures and business operations.
The private investigations industry does not have the greatest professional image. However, these two recent stories show both the importance of private investigators and the profession’s growing status as a necessary and useful enterprise for businesses, individuals, and governments.
The National Retail Federation provided staggering estimates that retail fraud cost businesses $9.6 billion dollars in 2009. $2.7 billion of these losses were during the holiday shopping season alone. The details of NRF’s survey of large national retailers point to some alarming statistics:
According to the survey, 93.1% of retailers said stolen merchandise has been returned to their stores in the past year, up from 88.9 percent in 2008. In addition, three-quarters of retailers (75.4%) say they have experienced returns of merchandise purchased with fraudulent or stolen tender while 43.1 percent say they have experienced returns using counterfeit receipts. Nearly half (46.2%) also report that wardrobing—the return of used, non-defective merchandise like special occasion apparel and certain electronics—has been an issue for their company within the past year.
The same survey, however, also indicates that there is some hope:
Though return fraud continues to plague the retail industry, changes in policies have helped companies see improvements in some areas. According to NRF’s annual Return Fraud Survey, completed by loss prevention executives at 134 retail companies, two-thirds of retailers (69%) say their company’s return policy has changed in the past to account for fraud. However, the losses remain staggering: the retail industry will lose an estimated $2.7 billion in return fraud this holiday season and an estimated $9.6 billion this year.
But where do you begin if you’re a small business? National and regional businesses have more resources, which often include their own in-house loss prevention specialists. Because they need to have comparable return policies as their larger competitors, but lack security expertise, small business retailers are more exposed to the risk of fraudsters. This is one reason to permanently retain a professional investigator or security consulting company. According to Dr. Craig Engstrom, a small business consultant and assistant professor at The University of Montana, “Small retail and restaurant owners understand that bogus returns and counterfeit coupons put a major dent into their profits. However, most small business owners—especially those with fewer resources—seem to be at a loss about where to begin. I recommend to my clients and students to outsource to professional investigators.”
In a previous blog, I already explained the benefits of retaining a private investigator as a small business owner. However, there are a few additional reasons to make a private investigator a permanent part of your business operations:
Selling personal items and services online can be a way to earn a few extra bucks. However, the dangers of advertising and selling expensive items online or in traditional print classifieds became all too apparent recently. James Sanders advertised a 1.07-carat diamond ring with an asking price of $1,050. He arranged for a couple to come to his home to look at the ring, and hopefully purchase it. During the transaction, James and his wife were ambushed by four people. By the end of the altercation, James had been shot. Click here for full story.
Equipment is important
Covert Investigations uses Gen-3 military grade night vision on all night surveillance. See a demo at:
Gen-3 equipment gives you facial recognition from long distances in the middle of the night and with little to no light.
The Gen-3 equipment is not to be confused with the inadequate night shot feature that comes standard with all video cameras. That video when produced only gives silhouetted images and is useless for evidence purposes.
If you have an assignment at night and you want quality identifiable evidence please call me or search a company that has similar equipment.
If an agency says they have Gen-3 equipment demand it be used and refuse to pay for the assignment if the it is not used. Covert Investigations will never bill a client for failure on our part.
Your evidence is important to your case. Be sure your Investigator has that equipment.
Observations & Interviews, a blog by Chet Engstrom
Chet Engstrom is owner of Covert Investigations Services, a private investigations firm located in Lewisville, Texas (DFW area). Texas license number: C10745.
4101 McEwen, Dallas, TX, 75244