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So You Want to Be a Private Investigator?

Before you rush out and buy yourself a magnifying glass and deer stalker, you should perhaps ask the question: what exactly is a private investigator?

The stereotype…

The fact that you’re reading this article suggests that you may seriously be considering becoming a private investigator. So what has attracted you to this line of work?

You may have an image of a private investigator in your head; a stereotype based on something you’ve read about in a novel or seen in a movie. Well, I’m sorry to dispel your perception, but we come in all shapes and sizes. Private investigators are both male and female and can be of any age. I suppose if we did all fit the stereotype, it would rather defeat the object.

So please don’t be put off if you think you don’t you fit the image that is misleadingly considered to be a ‘typical’ private investigator; there is no such thing. If you have an enquiring mind, a keen eye-for-detail and excellent people skills, then, with the correct training, there is no reason why you can’t become a skilled investigator.

The reality…

This industry does not suit everyone. If you are looking for a nine-to-five, 40 hour a week job, then I suggest you stop reading now. The work of a private investigator can often be mundane, sometimes involving routine elements which serve only to eliminate issues. However, the satisfaction, and even elation, experienced when the final pieces of the jigsaw fit together make it all worthwhile.

Who do private investigators work for?

A large proportion of investigative assignments come from law firms, followed closely by insurance companies, then corporate clients and finally members of the public. Consequently, there is a broad client base for those investigators who choose to offer a “general practice.” Some people operate solely on behalf of insurance companies, providing surveillance services to expose exaggerated injury claims or long term absenteeism in order to minimise claims.

If you’re serious about entering this industry, you should understand that those who are successful are professional investigators in the private sector who, by choice, would actually prefer not to be labelled as a PI or private detective.

What kind of training do I need?

It is estimated that around 45% of investigators operating in the private sector are former police officers. Whilst most of the work they now carry out will be of a civil nature, some of the skills they acquired in the police force are occasionally useful, as some matters can overlap into criminality.

Whilst that type of earlier training can be helpful, it is certainly not a pre-requisite, as investigation in the private sector requires many different skills.

Whilst there are some very good training providers out there, from whom genuine educational and practical skills can be acquired, you should be mindful that there are also numerous so-called ‘training academies’ that will print you off a fancy looking diploma once you have paid your money, which, quite frankly, will mean absolutely nothing to a potential client who is looking to check an investigator’s suitability. Choosing the right training provider is therefore vital.

Can I realistically break into the private investigation industry?

Please don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an easy business to get into, it is not. The avenues of entry are limited and you will be extremely lucky if you can obtain work with an established agency. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try!

This article is not intended to deter you from pursuing a career in the private investigation industry; in fact, just the opposite, our profession like any other needs new blood. As investigators, we are engaged to solve our client’s problems, and, as new problems evolve, new thinking from fresh minds must be harnessed to find new ways of solving problems.

How important is the private investigation industry?

Private investigation in the private sector is vitally important and plays a major role in supporting businesses. Remember: the assignments dealt with in commerce and industry are civil matters, which do not fall within the remit of the police. The nature of the work is so varied that it’s impossible to even try and describe them here. However, in the area of fraud alone, it is estimated that the UK economy loses over £30 billion a year.

Consequently, this industry is certainly not shrinking and can offer an extremely interesting and satisfying career for the right person who is prepared to work long and sometimes unsocial hours. If this is turns out to be your choice of career, then I wish you every success.

Written by Eric Shelmerdine

General Secretary of the Association of British Investigators

www.theabi.org.uk

Eric Shelmerdine worked as an investigator for a large commercial company for five years before starting his own ‘one man’ business in 1976. After two years, he linked up with the only other investigator in his town, a retired detective sergeant, and the partnership grew over the following years.

Eric is a Former President of the Association of British Investigators and recipient of the coveted Frank Martin Award in 1995 and ABI Investigator of the Year Award in 2003. He is also a Former President of the World Association of Detectives and was the recipient of the WAD Investigator of the Year Award in 2007.