Detective: Career Summary, Employment Outlook and Educational Requirements

Detectives investigate crimes and gather evidence for law enforcement or private agencies. Detectives typically need at least an associate's degree in criminal justice or a related subject along with relevant experience, though a bachelor's degree may be required for some positions. Continue reading for an overview of a detective career. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

While a high school education is needed for most detective jobs, law enforcement agencies and private companies may require job applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree in criminology, criminal justice or a related major. All detectives must have experience working with the latest technology and receive field training in all aspects of law enforcement.

Careers Private investigator, criminal investigator, private detective, senior detective
Job Outlook Job growth from 2016-2026 for public sector detectives and criminal investigators is expected to be 5%; job growth for private detectives and investigators is expected to be 11%
Education High school diploma or equivalent required; associate's or bachelor's degrees available in fields like criminal justice and are often required by federal agencies

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Careers Are Available to Detectives?

There are two primary career paths for detectives: some work for local, state or federal law enforcement agencies, while others are employed by private firms. Those who work in the public sector gather evidence in the process of investigating crimes and their job duties include:

  • Reviewing records
  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Observing suspects
  • Participating in arrests

Private detectives obtain information and provide surveillance on various subjects. They usually work for specialized private companies, law firms or individuals.

What Is the Employment Outlook for Detectives?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 110,900 people were employed as public sector detectives and criminal investigators in 2016; job growth from 2016-2026 is expected to be 5%, adding 5,000 jobs. If you hold a bachelor's degree, are a trained police officer, have relevant work experience and/or speak another language, you may have an edge over your competition.

The private sector employed 41,400 private detectives and investigators in 2016; this field is expected to grow by 11%, adding 4,400 jobs, from 2016-2026. You can stand out in the job market with work experience, computer skills and interviewing abilities.

As of May 2017, private detectives had a median salary of $50,700, while those working in law enforcement had an annual median salary of $79,970.

Which Degree Programs Will Prepare Me for a Career in Criminal Investigation?

Experience as a police officer may be the best preparation for a detective career in law enforcement. Many police departments offer a specific exam and base their promotions on the scores achieved by the applicants. Law enforcement agencies require detectives to receive training in firearms, criminal procedure, self-defense and first aid.

Employers of private investigators may hire those with a high school diploma and relevant experience, although an associate's or bachelor's degree may be necessary for some jobs. If you're interested in working in corporate investigation or computer forensics investigation, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree. Also, many private detective jobs require years of on-the-job training.

Beyond education, the following skills and qualities are helpful for public sector detectives and investigators to have:

  • Good judgement
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Perceptiveness
  • Physical stamina and strength

Here are skills and qualities that are helpful for private sector detectives and investigators to have:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Decision-making
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Patience
  • Communication

What Licensing Is Required by the State?

Most states require private detectives to be licensed; each state has its own system for those looking to become licensed. The National Association of Legal Investigators and ASIS International offers certification for investigators. Individuals preparing to work for a federal agency will typically train at the U.S. Marine Corps base or at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next »