I have been a member of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado for nearly 6 years now. During that time, one of the questions I have heard time and time again is how one exactly goes about becoming a private investigator, what steps are required, where can an incoming investigator gain experience, etc. As I talked with other long-time, experienced investigators, I realized there are just about as many ways to gain entry and a foothold in this profession as there are investigators in this profession.
With that in mind, I felt compelled to begin an article series entitled, How I Became a Private Investigator. My goal is to provide incoming investigators with some ideas and inspiration to begin their journey and ensure a long career in professional private investigations.
To begin, I must mention a little bit of the background I had coming into the profession. I did not have a college degree, although I did major in engineering for 2 ½ years at the University of Colorado-Boulder. I also did not have former law enforcement experience, or former military experience. Growing up, I never had aspirations to become a detective or investigator of any type. The most exposure I ever had to anything of a detective or investigations nature was reading Sherlock Holmes stories.
After realizing I did not want to be an engineer, I went out into the work force and worked in construction for a couple of years. Those years of working in construction made me realize what I truly wanted out of a career. I wanted a career that would be more mentally stimulating and challenging than construction, but I also liked being out in the world, not being confined in a cubicle or office environment all day, every day.
I began looking in the newspaper ads for jobs that fit the criteria above. I came across an ad for a company in Castle Rock that was hiring for an insurance investigator. The ad specified that there would be regular travel in Colorado, no experience necessary, will train the right person, and bilingual was a plus. I thought to myself, “I would love to see the state, I’m bilingual (Spanish), and if they’re willing to train, I’m willing to learn.”
I put my application in, and even though the ad stated that no experience was necessary, I still thought I’d never have a chance. As I mentioned before, I was not former law enforcement or former military and I had zero schooling in criminal justice or investigative related fields. I had not even so much as taken a course in private investigations. Actually, at the time I was not aware this position was considered private investigations.
Much to my surprise, the manager of the company called me and asked for an interview. He interviewed me, tested me out on my Spanish, and afterwards I still thought I had no chance of being hired. I can’t begin to explain the excitement I felt when I was hired. When I switched careers from construction to investigations, I initially took a drastic cut in pay. I started out at $12/hour in investigations over 10 years ago. However, I knew that my training with this company was worth something, so I didn’t mind the cut in pay.
Over the first two weeks, I went through an intensive field training program, and after those two weeks it was a trial by fire in working actual surveillance cases and process serves with no assistance. I still remember that for a month or two after beginning my career, I did not know I was becoming a private investigator. I had been hired as an insurance investigator, that’s what my boss referred to the employees as, and I didn’t make the connection to private investigations initially.
I think back now to what it took for me to get to where I am now. I intuitively guided myself to a career that was well suited to my personality. I feel tremendously fortunate to have found a company that was willing to train me from the ground up. The rest was perseverance, determination, and a never ending fervor for learning as much as I can about investigations. Actually, I’m still learning to this day. My goal is to learn one thing that is investigations related every day. Learning how to become a professional private investigator has been one of the most challenging experiences that I’ve been through. Being a business owner in this profession, well, that’s another challenge of its own. Actually, it has been the most challenging journey I’ve undergone, but also the most rewarding. I’ve been in this profession for over 10 years, and God willing, I hope to be in this profession for another 20 or 30.