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How to become a private investigator

We know what you’re thinking: don your biggest trench coat, put on your deerstalker cap, grab a magnifying glass and stroll the cobbled streets looking for question marks and clues - and BOOM, you’re a bona fide private investigator. Oh, you didn’t think that? Well good….neither did we!

private investigator

Long gone are the days where private investigators sat for hours in libraries with stacks of books or sifting through files and records behind closed blinds. Today’s PI’s or ‘private eyes’ are equipped with state-of-the-art technology. As surveillance specialists, we are going to give you all the details you need on how to become a private investigator and the next steps to take.

It’s all well and good stating that you’re ‘sharp’ and ‘observant’ on your CV and sending it off Baker Street, but this is rather the aspiration of a person who has spent many hours reading fictional novels from the 19-century.

While your case may not be to solve a murder on the Orient Express or a death on the Nile, the role of the PI has certainly diversified over the years, and it may not be as straightforward as you thought! The typical duties of a private investigator include:

  • Surveillance and counter-surveillance activities
  • Capturing videos and gaining evidence
  • Interviewing witnesses and conducting research
  • Process serving
  • Performing due diligence and debt recovery

Below, we have put together a step-by-step guide on what it takes to get into the world of private investigating.

Step 1: Is this career for me?

First, we should discuss the general requirements needed to become a PI. In the UK, PIs do not have to hold a license - though this will soon be changing. However, larger established investigation agencies will expect you to meet the right criteria - age, criminal record, history and moral character, for example.

These are fundamental requirements of any practising PI. Let’s face it, nobody wants a gun-wielding 15-year-old wandering the city claiming to be a detective.

You must also ask yourself if you have the characteristics to make a great private investigator. The job is not always as glamorous as portrayed - you’ll often be required to shadow people for days or weeks with little interaction. Some skills you should possess as an appropriate candidate, include:

  • Great levels of concentration
  • Excellent research skills
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Ability to make quick decisions
  • Impeccable attention to detail
  • Analytical and communication skills
  • Ability to work alone
  • Tact and empathy

If you think you hold these important qualities, read on to find out more about making your PI aspirations a reality.

Step 2: Study national and licensing requirements

As mentioned above, PIs in the UK do not have to be licensed. However, those practising in the US and in European countries such as Spain, are required to hold a license.

Depending on where you want to practise, specific requirements and credentials may be required that are state/region-specific. Contact your local authority for more information on how to become a legal PI.

Step 3: Education and training

Since Autumn 2014, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) has required members of the security/ protection industries to hold an approved license. As part of SIA’s licensing criteria, all members applying for a license to conduct investigatory activities will need to successfully take part in competency training. All applicants will be subject to SIA identity and criminal checks.

It is essential that you undergo training or higher education that will further enhance your career as a PI. There are plenty of credible online foundation courses available, from bodies such as the Institute of Professional Investigation, the Academy of Professional Investigation or the Open Study College.

You may also want to consider legal training and/or business training, as these areas of study supplement the training that an investigator needs. They will also add to your skill set. Contact your local colleges to find out what courses are available.

Step 4: Work experience and freelancing

Now you are ready to look for work, you may want to start compiling your CV. Make a note of all your achievements, qualifications, any work experience, education and skills you feel a potential employer may want to see.

Work experience in this sector is highly beneficial. This will give you a chance to put your skills into practice under the guidance of a professional organisation or body. Undergoing work experience will also increase your chances of finding employment.

Freelance work is also a great way to make a name for yourself in the industry. One benefit to this is that you can work for a diverse range of companies, but the downside here is that your financial situation may suffer from not having a regular income.

The best thing to do is to let people know that you are available for work, regardless of time length and the nature of the job. The way you act and carry out your investigations will help shape your future career.

Furthermore, do not limit yourself! Private investigation covers a broad spectrum of positions. From charity work, financial and credit agencies to banks, private bodies and corporate businesses. Consider all avenues before making your final decision. In addition, you may want to boost the credibility of your CV by gaining some experience with professional bodies such as the police, HM forces or local authorities.

Step 6: Invest in some decent spy equipment

Any credible PI will need to purchase the necessary equipment to carry out their job. Basic tools may include hidden spy cameras, listening devices, GPS vehicle trackers or mobile phone spy software. You will also require a computer with high-speed internet access.

As your income increases, you will be able to add more sophisticated tools to your kit. Equipment such as bug detectors and other counter-surveillance devices. Spy Equipment UK has a range of professional investigator equipment to get you started. Click here to find out more.

Step 5: Start your own PI business

Starting your own private investigating business may seem like a daunting prospect, but there is much satisfaction to gain from being your own boss. Before you begin, it is essential that you have both a fundamental knowledge of the operational and business logistics of the profession.

Establishing your own company can have its downfalls - at times it will be stressful and demanding. Therefore, you must be completely committed, disciplined and self-motivated with a determination to succeed.

Now you have the skills and training, it’s wise to look at what your competitors are offering and assess the services you could provide. This will help you to understand what works on a commercial level.

Now would also be a good time to get in touch with any contacts or colleagues you have made during your career. Network with local law firms to find corporate clients.

Contact Spy Equipment UK

Here at Spy Equipment UK, we are a team of vastly experienced investigators, working with a range of legal, financial and commercial institutions. We can undertake a wide variety of tasks using state-of-the-art equipment - whether your requirements are corporate or personal.

For more information on how to become a private investigator, contact us today. Our team would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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