Career Attributes

  • $77,475
  • 110,900
  • 3.7
  • 4.5%
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Criminal Justice
More Attributes


An estimated 45% of detectives that work in the private sector are former police officers. While most of the work will be of a civil nature, some of the skills previously acquired while working for the police force will occasionally be useful, as some things can overlap.

Investigative assignments come from law firms for the most part, followed closely by insurance companies, corporate clients and members of the public. Therefore, investigators who choose to offer a 'general practice' will have a broader client base. Some detectives, however, work solely on behalf of insurance companies, and provide surveillance services to bring to light exaggerated injury claims or long term absenteeism.

How long does it take to become a Detective?

The following is a breakdown of the typical timeline that aspiring detectives follow to enter the career:

Education – two to four years
Generally, police departments are more likely to hire applicants with a degree than those who do not have one. A degree in criminology, criminal justice, or a related field is common among practising detectives. Earning an Associate’s Degree takes about two years; completing a Bachelor’s takes about four years.

Become a police officer – two years
The road to becoming a full-fledged officer is comprised of four stages:
 The application process – up to three months
 The hiring process – up to four months, consisting of interviews and written, oral, physical, mental, psychological, medical, polygraph tests
 The training academy – about six months
 The probationary period – about a year of on-the-job training with a supervising officer

Get experience as an officer – two to five years)
Most police departments do not promote anyone before they have served two or three years. Other departments may require officers to have minimum five years of service before they can be promoted to a detective post.
According to the above prerequisites, it takes a minimum of six years to become a detective.

To be considered for a position with a private detective agency or to start your own agency and be hired by clients directly, you need to establish credibility by working for at least a year as a detective in the public sector.

Steps to becoming a Detective

Criminal justice programs offered through most colleges and universities offer preparation to become a detective, but there are also a variety of online course options. Private investigators have world-wide demand, with programs offered globally. For example, CSPIS (Canada School of Private Investigation and Security, Ltd.,) specializes in training investigators for both the public and private sectors, while DTI (Detective Training Institute) in California is a preparation course for the licensing exam. Completing course work toward a degree in Police Science is also a good idea. Understanding forensic processes and results gives detectives a leg up on closing cases.

1 Earn a College Degree

A detective will typically begin their career as a police officer. Although a high school diploma may be all that's required for some police officer positions, many agencies require a college degree. Both associate and bachelor degree programs are available in criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related field. Courses include criminal law, criminology, human relations, judicial function, forensic science, and criminal procedure. Some programs may also include an internship experience where students can acquire real-world insights.

2 Complete Training Academy

If an individual is going through the police officer route to become a detective, he or she must be at least 21 years old, a U.S. citizen, and needs to pass a drug and polygraph test. Police recruits must also complete a training academy program (police departments and state/federal agencies offer these). They must also pass written and physical tests which include a mixture of physical training and classroom study in areas such as firearm training, self defence, traffic control, and first aid.

3 Develop Skills

Detectives can keep a sharp mind by brushing up on new techniques and technology. An example is studying computer forensics, which can be very relevant to the job due to the increase in cybercrime. It is important for detectives to be very perceptive, observant, and have a keen attention to detail. These skills can be cultivated while on the job, paying close attention to people and their surroundings and learning how to capture these details in reports.

4 Build Work Experience

Many police agencies require police officers to serve at least three years before becoming eligible for detective positions. Aspiring detectives should express their interest to their superiors to be kept in mind for promotion. Promotion within an agency is generally based on an evaluation of an individual's performance as a police officer. Those with more experience and military training will likely have better prospects.

Should I become a Detective?

If you’re not 100% sure on whether becoming a detective is for you or not, here are a few things you may want to consider:

It's Not So Glamorous
- Most people think being a detective is a lot more glamorous than it really is. It’s actually a lot of hard work, involving hours of research before even leaving the house, sometimes driving miles to a site, sitting for hours waiting for something to happen, getting evidence of wrongdoing, driving back home, and writing any findings in a report.

- Detectives often have to sit in a surveillance position for hours upon hours until something happens, if anything happens at all. Relieving the boredom by reading a book or magazine isn't possible either, as something may occur during the time attention is diverted.

Work/Family Balance
- Detectives may have to work some major holidays, as that’s when most people are apt to be active. On the plus side, they typically start work very early, and so are able to return home in the late afternoon (3pm or 4pm), instead of the 6pm or 7pm timeframe many other careers have.

- Detectives work independently, make many of their own decisions, solve problems using their own skills and don't have someone constantly looking over their shoulder. This is a definite bonus when considering this career. Detectives are assigned cases and work on them until they are solved or until they reach a complete dead end.

More Potential as a Private Detective
A private detective's job potential is unlimited. Detectives are not limited to the same restrictions and constraints placed on government employees. They make their own hours and, to an extent, are architects of their own making. Although the private sector doesn't offer the same job security and benefits/perks as government employees, many individuals prefer the freedom.

Having to be Industrious
A good detective is self-driven, and fills the day with investigative activity. Detectives have more freedom than uniformed officers, but not as much stimulation. As a detective, you own the case and no one is going to work it for you or motivate you to do so.

Not a Physical Job
- Detectives are rarely in physically confrontational situations with individuals. It's more a battle of patience and wits, piecing together evidence to implicate a suspect.

What are Detectives like?


Based on our pool of users, detectives tend to be predominately investigative people.
Almost every aspect of a detective’s job involves some kind of investigation. There is certainly proof of this in the following excerpt (particularly in the bolded words) from an interview with a detective from the Los Angeles Police Department:

Some of my tasks can be locating and interviewing witnesses, re-canvassing the crime scene for additional witnesses or evidence, locating and downloading surveillance footage, booking evidence, searching through criminal data bases, and meeting with other law enforcement officers, who have expertise in the area where the crime occurred.

Detectives by Strongest Interest Archetype

Based on sample of 223 CareerExplorer users

Are Detectives happy?


Detectives rank in the 68th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

Being a detective is not like what you see on TV. However, it can be dangerous, dirty, frustrating, boring, and also rewarding with a high level of satisfaction with a job well done. It is not the profession for someone who enjoys the structure, security and safety of a "normal" office job.

Solving a case means going through many details (often boring trivial details) in order to ferret out some truth. Many detectives end up developing negative attitudes because of the constant exposure to criminals and liars.

Detective Career Satisfaction by Dimension

Percentile among all careers

Education History of Detectives

The most common degree held by Detectives is Criminal Justice. 34% of Detectives had a degree in Criminal Justice before becoming Detectives. That is over 24 times the average across all careers. Psychology graduates are the second most common among Detectives, representing 9% of Detectives in the CareerExplorer user base, which is 1.3 times the average.

Detective Education History

This table shows which degrees people earn before becoming a Detective, compared to how often those degrees are obtained by people who earn at least one post secondary degree.

Degree % of Detectives % of population Multiple
Criminal Justice 34.2% 1.4% 24.4×
Psychology 8.9% 7.0% 1.3×
Criminology 8.9% 0.4% 20.3×
Political Science 8.9% 2.9% 3.0×
Business Management And Administration 6.3% 6.5% 1.0×
History 6.3% 2.3% 2.8×
Economics 6.3% 4.0% 1.6×
Fine Arts 5.1% 2.2% 2.3×
Philosophy And Religious Studies 5.1% 1.6% 3.2×
Anthropology And Archeology 5.1% 1.3% 4.0×
Journalism 3.8% 1.1% 3.3×

Detective Education Levels

49% of Detectives have an associate's degree. 38% of Detectives have a high school diploma.

No education 0%
High school diploma 38%
Associate's degree 49%
Bachelor's degree 13%
Master's degree 0%
Doctorate degree 0%

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Career Attributes

  • $77,475
  • 110,900
  • 3.7
  • 4.5%
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Criminal Justice
More Attributes