There is a certain amount of romanticism wrapped up in the idea of being a private investigator, thanks in large part to classic literature in the mystery genre. With erudite and astute legends like Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, and even Nancy Drew drawing readers along on their dangerous gambits to discover the truth, it’s no wonder that so many people see the glamour in private detective work. But the truth of the matter is that spying on people can be in turns dangerous and dull. Of course, those times when you put together the pieces or catch someone in the act can certainly be thrilling and rewarding, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a job. Here are just a few pros and cons to consider before you jump into the field of investigative services.
1. Flexibility. One great thing about becoming a private investigator, especially if you start your own agency, is that the hours are not your typical 9 to 5. You may have to engage in stakeouts in the dead of night. And you could have breaks between jobs. The point is you have some flexibility when it comes to both your schedule and the work you do.
2. Potentially good salary. The salary is potentially good because it can vary by a number of factors, not the least of which is who you work for. If, for example, you work for an investigative service, you could expect to earn between $15 and $20 per hour, on average, although possibly a little less or a little more depending on where you live and the type of work your firm takes on. As a business owner you could charge more, say $50-$100 per hour. But you also take on the burden of expenses, including hiring underlings to do grunt work for you. And of course, the price you’re able to charge depends on your education, experience, and expertise, as well as the resources at your disposal and the relative difficulty of the assignment. Tracking down a cheating husband likely won’t net you as much as infiltrating a Ponzi scheme or uncovering a drug trafficking ring, for example.
3. A challenging and exciting career. Perhaps the reason why most people choose to enter this field is because the cases they’re able to tackle allow them to challenge their mind, stretch their skills of deductive reasoning and problem solving to the limit, and reap the rewards of their diligence. Plus, you’re doing something new every day.
1. Safety. As you can probably imagine, uncovering dirty little secrets could put you on the bad side of anyone with something to hide. This could be hazardous to your health. You may face people who threaten and intimidate you or who are outright violent. As a result, many P.I.s end up carrying firearms.
2. Job stability. Like your salary, this comes with a lot of caveats. There are certainly plenty of people and entities looking to hire private investigators. But you also have a lot of competition. And it could take years to build up a reputation that has clients waiting in line for your services. If you’re lucky you’ll start with a firm that already has a good reputation and you’ll create a network of contacts that allows you to strike out on your own with some prospects in your pocket. But you might not be that lucky, which will leave you hustling for work.
3. Experience. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to become a private investigator. You’re going to need some kind of education or experience (or both) to prepare you for the demands of this type of work. Many private investigators start out working for the police or as members of the military. Some are former spies. Many have an education in criminal justice, forensic science, or some type of computer field that lends itself to information gathering. If you show up at a New York Intelligence Agency with no resume to speak of, don’t expect to get far. You’re going to need to pave the way before you can cross the bridge into the world of a private eye.