Do you need experience to be a Private Investigator?

The question I get over and over again is, “Do you need experience to be a private investigator”. Yes. Of course you do. Yes. Er… well… No. Not always.

Does that clear it up?

Look, if you want to get your private investigator’s license and open your own detective agency, then yes, in most states in the United States (and many places in the world) you need to have experience in order to get that license. There are requirements to get your Private Investigator License.

Those experience requirements can vary greatly from state to state. However, if you’re not yet interested in getting your private investigator’s license or you don’t have the experience necessary to get your private investigator’s license, you can work as an investigator, even a private investigator, without a license under a few difference circumstances.

Three Examples

Government Agencies

Number one is if you’re working for a government agency that conducts investigations.

I’m not necessarily talking about being a police detective or a federal agent, something like that. Many government agencies have investigators including the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation, Department of natural Resources, Social Security Administration, Food and Drug Administration, IRS and a ton of others!

Many (maybe most?) government agencies have investigators that work for them. Your state’s illegal dumping and recycling programs probably have investigators that go out and do investigations. All sorts of government agencies have an investigative person, branch, or division to look into compliance issues and violations of their regulations.

If you work for two, three or four years with the Department of Natural Resources “Fraud, Waste and Abuse Division”, if there is such a thing in your state, you may find yourself with two, three or four years of full-time experience as an investigator!

Maybe it’s not called “investigator”. It may be called something a little bit different. Maybe it’s called “compliance officer” or “auditor”. That means, when you file your application with the state for your private investigator’s license, you have to make sure that you’ve explained, even though it’s called compliance officer rather than investigator, you have done the investigative work required by the state to qualify. You need to have the experience in investigations, not necessarily a particular job title.

Private Sector Investigations

A second place you can work as an investigator without a private investigator’s license is when you work “in-house” for a company. This means actually being an employee of that company and not just a 1099 outsider.

Many companies have an investigative division. All banks have investigative and fraud divisions. Social media companies have a security and investigative division. Larger retailers have loss prevention or asset protection departments. Heck, I got my start in loss prevention.

Usually you can work within a private company as an in-house investigator, detective, compliance officer (or whatever they might call it in there company). You’re preforming investigative tasks and building up the experience that the state needs to see.

Again, you can be hired directly into a company with no investigative experience if you meet the requirements they have for that job. Some places may want a little bit of investigative experience or skip tracing experience, but you’d be surprised. Look online. Apply for the jobs.

In my opinion… If you meet eighty percent of the requirements they say they need for that job, go ahead and apply for it. Give it a shot. A lot of places are looking to bring on somebody who’s clean, honest, and on time. They can train you in investigations, but they need somebody who’s ethical and going to do the job well.

No matter what job you’re in now – I don’t care if you’re flipping burgers, folding sweaters at a retail store or working in construction – whatever you’re doing now, do it well!

First of all, that’s the right thing to do. Secondly, you want a letter of reference from your current boss when you do apply for a job that’s more within the investigative industry.

Working in a Detective Agency

The third place you do not need a private investigator’s license to work as a private investigator is actually for a detective agency.

Private investigators, and I used to be this way myself, are looking to hire people as private investigators.

So, here’s how it works… I held the private investigator’s license, but I had registered investigators working for me (my company). They were private investigators. They were doing private investigator work and getting that experience. They were not licensed by the state. They were registered with the state under my license. Your state probably has a similar setup.


There are ways to work as a private investigator, gaining that private investigator experience, without actually getting your license.

Do you need a license to be a private investigator?

Yes, if you want to open your own detective agency.

No if you just want to be working in this industry.

As always, keep the things you do above board and ethical.

Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye,
Private Investigator (Ret.) &
#1 Best Selling Author

By the way, if you’d like more information about becoming a private investigator, I do have a free report over titled, “If You Want to be a Private Investigator, Give Up Unless You Do These Three Things.” If you’ve read this far, that report will definitely be off interest to you.

You can get it right here…

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Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye, Private Investigator

2 thoughts on “Do you need experience to be a Private Investigator?

  1. I’m a disabled us veteran.
    I am trying to become an associate for any investigative companies. I need to have a few years of experience as a trainee and am determined to find someone willing to hire me. I don’t care or want money; I want to investigate. I have a gift for being able to understand peoples actions and am experienced in overseas covert operations. If you are able to give me even just small tips, that would be amazing. Thank you for taking your time out to read this, have a great day sir!

    • This is one of the hardest parts of this business… getting your foot in the door. It stops a lot of people right there. The key is to remember there are a lot (a TON!) of “investigative” jobs that don’t have investigator in the title. Auditor, Loss Prevention, Skip Tracer, Compliance Officer, etc. Consider applying for jobs that have an investigative aspect, gain some documented experience and then apply for the jobs that more closely fulfill your dream. I wish you all the best!

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