How do you Become a Detective(Read on 17 tips)

How do you become a detective: Are you ready to become a detective or start a career in private investigation? Detective work can be exciting, but it also requires discipline, perseverance, and long hours spent following leads and waiting for developments. Here, we’ll review the requirements for the two main types of detectives: police detectives and private detectives. If you want to fight crime and solve cases, read our guide on how to prepare for your future as a detective.

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How do you become a detective

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1. Things You Should Know

  • To get training as a detective, get education in a field related to police work.
  • Stay in great physical shape to handle the demands of detective work.
  • Develop amazing people skills so you can interview others and follow leads.
  • Get additional certifications, like one in forensics, to get assigned more cases.

2. Know what to expect from a detective role before you get started. For instance, consider the time investment. It takes between roughly 8-14 years to earn your title as a detective. Also, realize that some specializations take even more time, like homicide or forensics. Then, reflect on the compensation—plan on a starting salary of $48,000.

  • $85,000 is the average salary for a detective that has been working for around 6 years.
  • Typically, it takes 2-4 years to complete your education, 2 years to be hired by a police department, 2-5 years to earn experience as an officer, and 1-3 years to train as a detective.
  • Other common specializations include due diligence detectives, insurance claim detectives, missing property detectives, and SVU detectives.

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How do you become a detective

3. Meet or exceed the entry-level detective education requirements. Satisfy the minimum requirement with a high school diploma or GED. Or, make yourself a more desirable candidate by pursuing a higher education. Graduate with an associate’s degree or even a bachelor’s degree in an area relevant to police work. Many detective agencies require college coursework or a college degree, so you’ll have a greater chance of being hired.

  • Getting an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree will also make it likely for you to earn a higher starting salary.
  • Consider an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in a field like criminal justice, criminal law, criminology, human relations, judicial function, forensic science, political science, or criminal procedure.
  • Find a degree program that includes an internship component, which will give you more real-life experience.
  • Learn a language that’s useful for your community, like Spanish. Being fluent in another language is a major asset for many urban departments and federal agencies.
  • There aren’t typically a lot of requirements for earning an associate’s degree, as it’s often designed to be a foundational advanced degree. To earn an associate’s degree, one must first obtain a high school diploma or GED. Some schools might have more specific requirements as well, like having a personal statement or a certain GPA.

4. Make sure you’re old enough to apply for a detective job. Carefully read the job postings in your state and check with the department that you plan to work for—typically, the age requirement for any position in law enforcement is between 18-21. However, different states will have their own individual expectations. 

  • Some agencies will accept you as a candidate if you will meet their age requirement at the time of your graduation.
  • Louisiana has no minimum age requirement.
  • If you’re 19, Maine will consider you as a candidate once you’ve earned 40 college credits.
  • If you aren’t able to meet the age requirement yet, use your time to focus on training to become a detective and getting a higher level of education.

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5. Meet the physical requirements for detective work. Pass a physical exam that tests your vision, hearing, strength, and agility. Undergo two assessments—the “job simulation” method and the “fitness” method. Take on the everyday tasks of a police detective, like running without losing your breath, and perform physical challenges like push-ups. You’ll prove you can handle all the demands a detective faces while on duty.

  • Each police department will have its own obstacle course for the job simulation method.
  • To prepare for the fitness method, check out the Copper Institute’s fitness standards, which most agencies use to measure your level of health and physical abilities.
  • The standards for the fitness method are based on your gender and age.

How do you become a detective

6. Have a clean record to qualify for a job in criminal justice. If you have a felony conviction, you may be disqualified. Since you may also be asked to take a lie detector test and go through a series of interviews, make sure that you are honest about your past. Also prepare for a thorough police background investigation. Expect a police department to interview your friends and family, look into all your academic transcripts, check your previous job performance, and review your criminal records.

7. Develop the professional and people skills needed for detective work. Though you can work on developing qualities that a police department looks for over the course of your career, you can give yourself the best head start by being an ideal candidate right away. Here are some of the qualities that are crucial for your success as a detective:

  • The ability to multi-task. Though you may be focusing on one case at a time, you will always have multiple tasks and lots of paperwork that needs to get done in a short amount of time.
  • Excellent communication skills. In order to interview anyone you meet and get the best information possible, you’ll need to earn people’s trust. Not only will you need to make them comfortable, but you’ll also have to establish authority so they provide all the details you’re looking for.
  • Strong writing skills. Being a detective isn’t all about going out into the field, having high-speed chases, and following exciting leads. There will be lots of writing involved, and you’ll need to know how to describe incidents in a way that all your colleagues can understand.
  • Patience. If you want to be a good detective, then you can’t obsess over solving a case immediately; it can take months, or even years, to follow a lead, and some of your detective work may even lead to dead ends.
  • Perceptiveness. When you take in all of the details of a crime scene, try to connect all the dots and create a story based on what you see. You’ll be one step closer to finding an answer if you think about information in an original way.

8. Start as a police recruit to learn about police work. To start as a police recruit, complete the training academy program, which requires you to pass written and physical tests before you become an officer. Go through your training at a local police department, or a state or federal agency. Expect your courses to take about 14 weeks. Once you finish your them, you’ll be able to phase into the responsibilities of a detective more easily.

  • Training academy programs involve classroom study that will include self-defense, traffic control, and first aid.
  • To apply for a training academy program, go to the department you’d like to work for once you have your college degree and ask if there are any available opportunities.
  • Make sure you don’t have any felonies, misdemeanors, dishonorable discharges, or gang-related activity in your past, as any of these factors will disqualify you from entering the police force.
  • If you join the military and gain experience as a military police officer, you might be accepted into municipal police work once you’ve completed your military duties.

How do you become a detective

9. Gain work experience to qualify for a detective position. Once you’ve become a police officer, use your first 3 years on the job to establish yourself and show you’re a great asset to the team. To prove yourself, go above and beyond the call of duty, score high on agency exams, and get high marks in evaluations from your superiors. While you wait to be eligible for a detective position, make sure to:

  • Brush up on the latest techniques and technologies. Study computer forensics to learn how to battle cyber crime. Taking night college courses can help build your experience.
  • Continue to exercise regularly, do aerobic and strength training, and remain physically fit so that you’re able to handle the grueling nature of your job.
  • Write detailed reports about crime scenes and accidents. Your superiors will see how observant you are and are more likely to consider you an asset to the team.

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10. Pass a national investigator test to show you’re ready to be a detective. Ask your agency to schedule you for the National Detective/Investigator Test (NDIT), a comprehensive exam that determines whether you have the necessary skills to be a successful detective. Pay $75 for the exam and $10 for a study guide. Use at least 1-2 months to study for the NDIT. Once you take the test, you’ll receive your results in 5-10 days.

  • Even if a detective position isn’t available, take the NDIT and inform your department if you pass it. Your superiors will likely appreciate your initiative and keep you in mind for future opportunities.
  • In addition to taking the NDIT, get certifications for both a police detective and a private investigation to give yourself an extra advantage.

11. Go to an academy to get formally trained as a police detective. If you work in a state or a large police department, get training right in your own agency’s police academy. However, if you work in a smaller department, go to a state or regional academy to receive your training. Take classroom instruction in civil rights, state laws, constitutional law, as well as police ethics.

  • Also, you’ll receive training in other areas that include how to use firearms, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.
  • As one training option, enter the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy, which provides training for municipal detectives.

How do you become a detective

12. Start off in fields that are relevant to private investigation. To prepare for the responsibilities of a private detective, enter the police force or any field that handles a lot of documentation and cases. For example, work for insurance or collection companies, in finance, as a paralegal or a lawyer, or as an accountant. Alternatively, try military or federal intelligence jobs. While you carry out your responsibilities in these fields, keep reminding yourself how these duties relate to detective work.

  • As long as you explain how your previous job is relevant to detective work, you’re more likely to be seen as an ideal candidate. For example, if you searched for security threats when you were in IT, you can relate this to fighting cyber crime for a police department.
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13. Get licensed as a private detective to take on cases. Most states require you to be licensed as a private detective or investigator, so check out the requirements of your state. Some states have more requirements than others. For example, California requires you to have 6,000 hours of paid, on-the-job experience with investigative work. If you plan to carry a handgun, then you will most likely have to meet additional requirements as well, depending on your state. Remember that you will need a permit to carry any firearm.

  • If you’re a computer forensic investigator, then your state may require you to be licensed as a private investigator as well. Even if it’s not required, the license will help you follow up on investigative work by allowing you to access and retrieve data.

14. Get certification from a professional organization. Research local or online programs that offer customized certification programs designed for niche fields of detective work. Apply for the programs that are the best match for your professional goals. For example, if you want to specialize in negligence or criminal defense, get certified by the National Association of Legal Investigators. If you plan to specialize in security, get certified by ASIS International, which offers the Professional Certified Investigator certification.

  • Additional certifications, like one issued by the ACFE to work as a Certified Fraud Examiner, can help you take on more niche cases because you’ll be specially qualified.

How do you become a detective

15. Get work at a private detective agency to start your career in PI. Research private detective agencies in your area and send in your application. Also browse online job postings and check out the requirements and area of focus for different private detective agencies. For example, some may specialize in theft and stolen property. Reach out for an interview and explain why the agency needs your skills. Once you’re hired, focus on gaining credibility and solving as many cases as you can.

  • Most of these agencies are small, without much room for advancement. Still, you’ll be able to gain a few years of experience at a private agency before you start your own practice.

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16. Consider being a private investigator for a corporation. To become a corporate investigator, think about the area of expertise you want to provide to companies. For example, if you’ve already spent 10 years investigating information leaks, then you’d be a great fit for a tech company that needs to protect its data. Look for various corporations with job listings that match your professional background, then reach out and offer your services.

  • While a private detective agency offers a wider range of cases, a corporation or legal firm will offer you a more narrowed down set of tasks. For example, you might be assigned cases that only relate to medical malpractice.

How do you become a detective

17. Consider starting your own firm. If you’re interested in becoming more independent, focus on starting your own private investigation business. To apply for licensing as a private firm, you’ll likely need 3-5 years of work experience as an investigator and a clean background check. Make sure that you’ve built up your client base so you can take on a consistent caseload. Continue to develop relationships to receive referrals and build your PI business.

  • It’s likely that you’ll take on a lot of domestic cases, such as custody disputes, because local clients will reach out to the private firm that’s closest to them.
  • Be prepared for start-up costs, like surety bonds, liability insurance, and general business licenses.
  • Write a business plan to make sure you can make your PI firm profitable.

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