Private Investigator

    If you are wondering how to become a private investigator, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within the legal profession, as well as law job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Private investigators carry out undercover enquiries for their clients (solicitors, insurance companies, councils, private companies and individuals).

    As a private investigator, you would ask questions and analyse information to carry out background research. Your work could also include:

    fraud investigation
    missing persons enquiries
    investigating insurance claims
    presenting legal documents (process serving)
    investigating commercial piracy
    personnel vetting.
    You would typically work alone as a self-employed or freelance investigator. You would use a computer to process detailed reports and maintain your own accounts.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good private investigator include:

    strong communication skills, both spoken and written
    excellent observational skills
    strong analytical skills
    the self-confidence to present information in court
    basic computer skills and a knowledge of the law
    honesty and integrity
    the ability to work independently
    a logical approach to your work
    a good level of physical fitness
    patience and perseverance.

    How to become a private investigator
    You do not need to have formal qualifications to start work as a private investigator. However, a good general education and experience in a security related field would be helpful. Business skills are also important because most opportunities in this area involve working as a freelance or self-employed investigator.

    The Academy of Professional Investigation (API) runs a BTEC Level 3 Advanced Diploma in Private Investigation, which can be used as a first step into this career. With this qualification you may have an advantage when looking for work experience or paid work with an agency.

    The Association of British Investigators (ABI) has details of local private investigators you could contact about gaining experience. The ABI also produces the Process Servers Guide – knowledge of this could increase your chances of finding work presenting and serving legal documents.

    The Private Security Industry Act 2001, outlines a system for regulating the sector, which includes private investigators. The Security Industry Authority (SIA) is working towards publishing full details of their plans to license private investigators. Check the SIA website (in Further Information) for details.

    A driving licence is usually essential for this work.

    Training and Development
    Once you are working as a private investigator with an agency, for example, you will usually receive training on the job from your employer. You can support this by working towards qualifications such as NVQ Level 3 in Intelligence Analysis.

    There is a range of courses you could do to develop your skills and knowledge in this area, for example:

    the Association of British Investigators (ABI) has details of providers offering a 2-day Foundation Course in Investigation, and a 5-day Professional Private Investigator course
    the Institute of Professional Investigators (IPI) has details of courses in tracing, and setting up in business
    the API BTEC Level 3 Advanced Diploma in Private Investigation can be done before or after you start work in this field.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    New private investigators can earn between £10,000 and £12,000 a year.
    Experienced and salaried private investigators may earn £14,000 to £20,000.
    Self-employed investigators can earn £20,000 to £25,000 a year.
    Top salaries in corporate investigation for those with detailed legal knowledge can be £50,000 to £100,000 a year.

    Job Prospects
    Opportunities for work have increased in this area, and investigators are taking on more work previously done by the police. However, competition for work is still strong.

    You will find most job opportunities with investigation agencies. Agencies will usually want you to have experience, which you may be able to gain through part-time or temporary work. Although there is no single regulatory body for this field, you can find a list of agencies who meet the professional standards of the ABI, IPI and WAPI on their websites.

    With experience, you could set-up your own agency with other investigators working for you.

    Opportunities for progression will vary depending on the size of the agency. Larger agencies may provide you with the opportunity to progress to senior investigator or team manager. You may also have the option of working abroad, for example, on a commercial piracy case.

    Useful legal resources:
    Institute of Professional Investigators (IPI)
    83 Guildfort Street
    KT16 9JL
    Tel: 0870 330 8622

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