Private Investigator Jobs / Private Detective Jobs and Careers
Originally an American phenomenon, private investigators / private detectives have become far more common in the UK than ever before. This is partly down to the popularity of many TV series and films, which show the 'Private Eye' or 'PI' working behind the scenes and, occasionally, outside the boundaries of the law to bring criminals to justice. The crimes these fictional characters are involved in are usually murders, with the investigator working in often dangerous circumstances, letting themselves into locked premises and acting on tip-offs that the regular police are unable to follow up.
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The rise of the private investigator / private detective in the UK has far more to do with failing relationships and suspicious spouses, alimony payments and child custody battles. On the corporate side, private investigators can also be undertaking industrial intelligence investigations. Legal teams may engage investigators / detectives to deliver documents or locate missing people. As always, the reality of the job is more varied than it seems on the TV and movie screens, yet at the same time, far more mundane.
What is Involved in the Job of Private Investigator?
The work of the private investigator / private detective falls into three areas, along with their clients: individual, business and legal.
As mentioned above, individual clients often engage private detectives to find evidence for a marital legal dispute or to bring a case in a civil (or occasionally criminal) case against another individual. They may also wish to trace missing family members. This kind of work involves long periods of surveillance or hours spent trawling through online and hard print records in search of information.
The business world engages private investigators / private detectives to investigate those who are acting against the company's business interests. For instance, the theft of corporate 'intelligence', infringement or theft of copyright on a product might be investigated. Insurance companies use private investigators in the investigation of fraudulent claims. Many private investigation agencies specialise in one particular area of corporate work and there are fewer sole operators. Their work can cross over into more security work with use of electronic monitoring equipment.
On the legal front, solicitors hire private detectives to take witness statements or investigate alibis. They are also used in England to deliver legal documents, such as summonses, subpoenas or writs (although not in Scotland, where appointed officers complete this task).
Unlike the fictional PI, private investigators / private detectives must operate within the law. Evidence collected must be admissible in court, so if illegal means are used to gain that evidence, it will be deemed invalid. Reliable agencies are licensed by the Association of British Investigators or the Institute of Professional Investigators. Membership amounts to an assurance that the agency is not asking its private investigators / detectives to act illegally in pursuit of their work goals.
The range of daily activities includes advertising services and meeting prospective clients to outline cases, before arranging meetings with various individuals to establish preliminary information. Record keeping needs to be undertaken diligently, with evidence and reports prepared for clients. Legal regulations need to be adhered to at every stage. Then there is administration, such as billing clients for services, as well as supervising any staff.
There is a degree of office work in this role, but a great deal of time is spent travelling around, undertaking the checks and surveillance work. This work can take place at any time of day or night.
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Hours and Conditions
While the range of the work can be wide, many of the daily activities, such as searching web-based records or making telephone calls, can be tedious. The hours are irregular, because surveillance must take place when events are happening, not just during office hours. People who need to be contacted may have day jobs, so must be interviewed in the evenings or at weekends. Much of the work is solitary, involving sitting in cars doing surveillance or following people into salubrious locations and venues. Occasionally work can be confrontational and dangerous, so some investigators carry licensed handguns.
Only owners of larger investigation companies may have regular hours, as they are employing other investigators to do the legwork for them.
Type of Person Required
Much of the work is solitary, but there are times when team work is necessary. The amount will depend on the nature of the investigative work.
The person most suited to private investigation work is able to think originally. They are also persistent, ready to do the boring methodical stages of investigations, and assertive enough to pursue their goals. Self discipline and a high level of concentration is necessary.
As well as being good communicators, who can interview and interrogate people, they must be able to handle negative responses and occasional confrontation. Sensitivity is needed when dealing with people involved in marital disputes or divorces.
A foundation knowledge of the law and legal procedures is necessary. When collecting evidence for court cases, the person needs to be extremely methodical and patient. A fine attention to detail is helpful. Literacy is required for writing reports. They also need the individual integrity required to be believed in court, as well as the ability to present cases in a legal and orderly fashion.
The majority of people in these roles have undertaken some work within the police or security services, or insurance investigation, prior to entering this field. It is common for retired police officers to take up a second career in this area. There are no formal education requirements for jobs, but those seeking to become private investigators straight out of education, or from another career area, would do well to gain training in subjects such as public services or criminal justice.
For those who wish to work for a major company, a relevant degree is desirable, such as IT for computer forensics, or business administration for copyright protection. In these instances, specialist training would also be provided in-house by the employer.
Salaries and Prospects
The majority of private investigation agencies are small, meaning that promotions are unlikely. Increasing benefits are likely to be financial rather than status driven. It is common for private investigators / private detectives to start their own agencies after a few years' experience, this being the main means to increasing income. They can then charge by the hour, rather than receiving a salary. However, it takes time to build business, particularly in an area where other agencies are already operating.
Due to their larger size, legal and corporate investigation firms offer more opportunities for promotion to supervisory or managerial roles. Salaries for such work vary according to the nature of the work and the geographical region. First jobs tend to offer from £18,000 to £23,000 per year. More experienced investigators can expect to earn around £35,000 per year.
Private Investigator Job Sites / Private Detective Jobs Sites
Most private investigators / Private Detectives are self employed, but there are still many agencies offering positions.