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Private investigators provide a variety of different services to address various issues, from corporate security and protection to individual investigative needs. In order to be properly qualified as a private investigator (PI), an individual must obtain the proper training and experience. This is especially true if the private investigator will be working for other professionals such as law enforcement or attorneys.


While a high school diploma is not required to become a private investigator, it may be necessary to have some work experience in the field. High school graduates who wish to pursue a career in private investigation may require a year or two of college courses and professional training. Those wishing to become private investigators who lack a high school diploma may require one to attend a one-year associate’s degree program at a community college. Those who work on contract as an investigator on a part-time or full-time basis may also require a year of experience as an assistant to a private investigator.

There are a number of different degrees that may be required for private detectives to become licensed in their states. Most private investigators will seek a four-year college education, although this is not the only way to attain a private detective license. Those interested in private detective work may also complete the national certification through the International Association of Private Investigators (IAPI). Those pursuing graduate work in criminal justice and private investigation can also become certified through the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI). A few private detectives choose to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) after completing an LPN program.

In order to be qualified as a private detective, a person must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, there are several private investigators who do not require high school graduates to become private detectives. These private detectives may prefer candidates who have a high school degree, or at least a diploma from an accredited program. Some investigators will also prefer candidates with associate’s degrees or bachelor’s degrees. Candidates who have completed a criminal justice program and who show the ability to analyze, decipher and interpret large amounts of data may be able to get hired as an investigator by several local law enforcement agencies.

While working as an investigator, a private detective will frequently meet with clients to gather evidence and interview witnesses. To become a licensed private investigator, the applicant must pass the most extensive exam available to the United States. This exam, administered by the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI) is known as the Multistate Essentials of Criminal Justice (ME-MCJ) exam. Candidates applying for work must successfully complete the ME-MCJ exam and pass at least one state examination.

Once the private investigator has met the requirements required to obtain a private investigator’s license, he or she must complete a state-approved training program. To perform well in a state examination, a private investigator needs to pass the state tests. Applicants can find a list of the test prep courses offered by local law enforcement agencies at the ME-MCJ website. Once the training has been completed, applicants can apply to take the exam for a license from the local police department.