There are some very specific traits common to almost all private investigators (successful ones at least).
- Having a thick skin. This is not an easy job and you are not dealing with nice people all the time. You will face abuse and you may be treated like the villain by whomever you’re investigating. You need to be able to handle this. Yes, you should try to treat everyone fairly, but you will at times have very uncomfortable conversations. As long as you’re staying true to your own values and maintain your integrity, you don’t need to worry too much about what people think or say about you.
- Good verbal and written communication skills. A lot hinges on what you say, both on investigations and in court. You need to be able to communicate, persuade and influence effectively and succinctly. Equally, you need to be able to do the same on paper. Your spelling, grammar and vocabulary need to be excellent. If they’re not, at least find someone else who can check or create your reports and correspondence for you. Written communication also includes your ability to keep good records and a tidy system for billing, reporting, compliance etc.
- Common sense and a logical mind. It’s important to remain objective during a case and not be side-tracked or miss the glaringly obvious. You need to be comfortable in all sorts of situations and you need to maintain a clear head during times of stress. You also need to be able to adapt quickly to changing situations, so a good broad knowledge of a lot of areas is useful. Having common sense also means you keep the bigger picture in mind, especially when it comes to your own safety. There is no room for a ‘macho’ attitude. In dangerous situations, just walk (or run) away.
- Inquisitiveness and persistence. At the start of a case it’s very easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of information and ways you could begin. You need to be able to start unravelling, and then once you start you need to be able to follow through to its completion.
- Patience and the ability to work alone. There are no questions about it, you will spend a lot of time waiting. When I say a lot, I mean hours at a time. Whether in a vehicle, in a café or in a holding area. Or you may be working on a lead for days with no real visible progress. And a lot of this may be on your own. You need to be comfortable with this without going out of your mind.
- Street-smarts or worldly wisdom. You can’t be naïve. You will hear all sorts of stories, and everyone is innocent when you first start interviewing them. You need to be able to trust the evidence and your instincts and not believe everything you hear (in fact, you almost need to disbelieve everything until it’s verified to be true).
- A non-judgmental attitude. You generally won’t know the full circumstances of the situation so it’s not up to you to judge people, nor to take their side. Just concentrate on doing your job as professionally as you can. Having no emotional attachment makes things a lot easier. We’re not here to solve crimes or make the world right, we’re here to act on instructions from our client. Another reason is, you never know who you will see again or whether you’ll eventually need something from them! Treat people with respect and don’t burn your bridges.
- Confidence. The ability to be comfortable in any situation, regardless of how out of place you feel. Yes, some of this needs to be fake confidence because in a lot of cases you will be acting when trying to blend in. You also need to be able to talk to anyone of any background, building a rapport and getting people to open up to you.
- Professionalism and willingness. Nail these two and you’ll have a steady supply of clients. Remember, when they come to you, they’re expecting some sort of reassurance. Whether that’s a case solved, or if not at least the knowledge that they tried their best and hired a professional. And if you’re not only professional, but willing and eager to take on a case (provided that it’s a case you would accept) then that’s the x factor. Who would you rather work with, a professional who looks bored or one who is enthusiastic?