According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for private detectives and investigators was $50,780 (mean hourly pay of $24.42) as of May 2012, with the top 10 percent earning more than $79,790.
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Salaries in Different Industries
During the same time, industries with the highest level of employment (and their mean annual salary), included:
- Investigative and Security Services: $46,700
- Local Government: $55,060
- Legal Services: $59,510
- Management of Companies and Enterprises: $50,460
- State government: $46,030
The top-paying industries for private investigators and detectives in 2012 were:
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services: $73,860
- Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution: $73,180
- Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing: $71,850
- Aerospace Products and Parts Manufacturing $70,620
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services: $70,440
The top-paying states for private investigators and detectives that year were:
- Washington: $70,510
- Texas: $64,810
- Alaska: $63,810
- Virginia: $62,800
- Nebraska: $62,470
In 2012, states with the highest employment levels for private investigators and detectives were:
- New York: $52,430
- California: $58,970
- Florida: $43,980
- Pennsylvania: $47,610
- Texas: $64,810
Similar to the BLS statistics, recent job postings show that professional opportunities are quite broad and the earning potential is impressive:
- A private investigator job through a Colorado Springs, Colorado , investigative agency with a specialization in insurance fraud had a job posting for a private investigator with less than one year of experience required and a salary range of between $35,000 and $45,000 per year, along with a five-week training period, full medical benefits, and a retirement plan.
- The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had a job posting for an investigative manager with a salary of $46,381. Minimum requirements for this job included a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and 15 years of law enforcement experience.
- A Cincinnati, Ohio, investigative firm had a job posting for a licensed private investigator in a contractor position for $25 per hour, or $48,000 per year if on a full-time basis.
- A Lafayette, Louisiana, private investigation firm had a job posting for a full-time private investigator with a salary of between $25,000 and $45,000.
- An investigative agency in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had a job listing for a private investigator that had a salary of between $29,000 and $38,000, with one year of experience required and a college degree preferred.
Like many other professions, salaries for private investigators vary based on a number of factors:
Private investigators must possess a specific skillset, including sharp analytical skills and expert research and surveillance skills. However, beyond that, these professionals must have a solid understanding of the criminal justice field, which is often achieved through a combination of experience and education. An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field provides private investigators with vital knowledge of the law and of the profession, while experience affords them the time to hone and perfect their skills.
As such, many employers require candidates to possess both an education and relevant professional experience, while others have a much higher pay scale for those candidates with comprehensive resumes showcasing both formal education and relevant job experience.
Although many private investigators choose to offer general investigative services, perhaps just as many choose to focus their careers on one area of specialization. As such, private companies, investigative firms, and individual clients may seek out—and pay more for—private investigators who possess expert knowledge in a particular area, such as:
- Criminal investigation
- Terrorism and intelligence
- Computer forensics
- Marital investigation
- Nursing home abuse investigation
- Insurance investigation
- Pre-employment/employee investigations
Professional Association Membership or Certification
One of the ways private investigators set themselves apart from their competition and demand higher paychecks is through membership and/or certification in a professional association.
Many states have professional membership associations that provide private investigators with a wealth of opportunities for advancement in the industry, such as workshops, conferences, training and education events, and networking events. As such, members in these professional associations often find more career opportunities which, ultimately, leads to higher salaries.
Professional certification provides another opportunity for private investigators to show their commitment to the profession while also gaining recognition from clients and peers.
For example, ASIS offers the Professional Certified Investigator (PCI), which allows private investigative professionals to demonstrate their knowledge and experience in the fields of: evidence collection; case management; and preparation of reports and testimony.
Candidates must possess at least 5 years of investigative experience, which includes at least two years in case management, to qualify for this designation. They must also pass a certification exam, which includes the following topics: Case management (29 percent), Investigative Techniques and Procedures (50 percent) and Case Presentation (21 percent).