Common and uncommon backgrounds of private investigators [How to become a PI – book excerpt]

Kurt.nzBusiness, career, finance, How to become a private investigator

After a while in the industry you get to know where investigators tend to come from. In the case of former police officers, often just by looking at them! But regularly you’ll come across that person who came from a completely different field, one that you wouldn’t expect would lead to a career in private investigation.

There are common backgrounds for most private investigators, but just because you don’t have this background doesn’t mean you won’t make a great investigator. In the next chapter, we’ll go over attributes common to investigators (regardless of what background you came from). In the meantime, here are some common and uncommon backgrounds.


  • Police officer or other law enforcement role
  • Insurance claims adjuster
  • Military police or intelligence
  • Parent was a P.I.
  • Completed a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or similar
  • Private internship or online training
  • Legal profession

Not so common

  • Journalism
  • Accounting or finance
  • IT specialist
  • Security industry
  • Other completely non-related industries!

A number of people have asked me how to get a job as a security contractor or close protection officer. While I have never done these specific roles, I have worked with many people who have. I was offered a role in Papua New Guinea and on ships doing counter-piracy, but it’s not what I wanted to do.

From what I’ve seen, getting a role like this is all about who you know. The people who are hiring just look around among their network. They’d much rather work with people they know and trust. I.e. people they have served with in the military or police force.

Added to that, being a close protection officer (bodyguard) is a very specific role that requires a lot of training. Because you’re responsible for someone’s life, it’s only right that they want the best! So if you are interested in either of these roles, the best way is through the police or military first. You’ll make some contacts, build trust and get training.

The amount of people I’ve suggested this to, who are too impatient to do it, is astounding. They just want to get out there and do the job. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way for these particular roles. And what is a few years in the scheme of things if it leads to something you really want to do? Many people do a college degree for four to five years and still don’t know what they want to do!

Back to being a private investigator. As a side note, being a female is not a disadvantage. In fact, in a lot of situations it can be an advantage. In some cases, a client will want a female investigator, especially in domestic cases. This is because, generally speaking, females tend to show more empathy and understanding. They can also be better listeners and appear less threatening.

Females don’t usually intimidate an interviewee as much, so can often get more information than a male investigator might.

In the case of allegations (of inappropriate or suggestive behavior during an interview for example), having a female witness present first can often avoid that. One of the oldest tricks in the book for an alleged insurance fraudster who is female, is to accuse the male investigator of sexual harassment. Suddenly the case doesn’t become about her alleged fraud, it becomes about you trying to defend your reputation! If you had a female investigator as a witness there in the first place that never would have happened.

We made it standard practice to have a female present whenever conducting an interview with a female.

On the other side of it though, this is an industry that tends to be dominated by men (depending on where you are of course). And there can be some situations that a female by herself can suddenly feel very vulnerable and unsafe in. But as long as you’re aware of that first and have a plan to manage this, then a female has as much chance to make it as a male does.

Hopefully this chapter has shown you that you can come from just about any background and be a successful P.I.

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