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The Pros and Cons of being a Private Investigator.

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

The world of a private investigator (PI) is often shrouded in mystery and intrigue, attracting those drawn to solving puzzles and uncovering hidden truths. However, like any profession, it has its upsides and its downsides. This post delves into just a few aspects of being a private investigator, helping those considering this career path to make a more informed decision.

Pros of Being a Private Investigator

1. Diverse and Exciting Work!

Private investigators handle a wide range of cases, from personal matters like marital infidelity to complex corporate fraud investigations. Most often you'll start your career working on lower level cases such as domestic matters, insurance claims and serving court documents known as service of process. These are all great ways to get your feet wet and learn the foundation of investigations without getting in too much trouble.

Over time, you'll build your experience and your reputation up and the more complex cases will come through word of mouth and referrals. There are exceptions of course. If you have an existing background and degree in a field such as finance, you could start your career as an internal investigator at a larger organization. Also not a bad way to go if you want to build on that specialty. It's a different road that being a true private investigator but a good way to be in investigations with more stability of hours and salary. In any case, be assured that no two days will be the same. Investigations offers an exciting alternative to most 9-5 jobs.

2. Autonomy in Work

As a Private Investigator or Licensed Private Detective you could be self employed or work for an agency. Self employment provides a level of independence uncommon in other careers. While you'll have the freedom to set your hours and choose your cases you honestly can't be too picky in that regard. At least not early on. Paying cases will be your priority regardless of the hours you'll need to work them. For motivated self starters it makes for an interesting schedule that's always changing. But before you run out to rent an office and buy some a detective noir decor, make sure you take a good look at the qualifications required in your particular state. For example, in Illinois (please note, the "S" is silent. Pronouncing it bugs us) we have some pretty strict requirements for becoming a licensed private detective. This is different than working as an investigator at a detective agency, which can be done far more quickly. To actually hold a private detective license in Illinois and therefore be self employed you need to fulfill a combination of experience and education requirements. The process includes completing three years of experience working for a licensed private investigator or agency, which must be done within the five years prior to application. Education can substitute for some of this experience. A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field can fulfill two years of the required experience. An associate’s degree can fulfill one year of the three years required experience. Additionally, passing the Illinois Class A Private Detective exam, which is offered twice a year, is required. So, the whole process can take several years, depending on how you fulfill the experience and education requirements.

In drastic comparison, lets say you lived in the state just bordering to the north of Illinois called Wisconsin. In the dairy state, in order to become a licensed private detective, you need to get a B- on a test that you can take at home. Seriously, that's it. I wish I was joking. If you fail, you can take it again for $75.00. Keep that it mind if you ever have to hire a private detective in Wisconsin as the person you hired may have decided on that career path yesterday.

3. Intellectual Challenge

Regardless of the type of case work, investigative work is definitely intellectually stimulating. It requires critical thinking, problem-solving, and often, creative thinking. Private investigators must analyze information, connect the dots, and think on their feet, making the job satisfying for those who enjoy mental challenges. What many people considering this career don't realize, is that a lot of the work happens before you leave the office or when you get back. Research is the foundation of most cases, even if the field portion of it involves surveillance, dumpster diving, interviews/interrogations, or canvassing a neighborhood. It all starts with research and ends in solid report writing.

4. Opportunity to Help Others

You can find a good deal of fulfillment in helping clients find closure. That could be by way of reuniting a family, helping to prove the innocence of a wrongly convicted person, or even finding evidence of a spouses suspected activities. The work of a private investigator can have a significant, positive impact on the lives of others.

5. Potential for Good Income

Like any field, the people who are committed and consistent will excel. You have to continually learn and improve. Early in your career, the report you provide to a spouse about the surveillance you conducted over the weekend may not have to be formatted to perfection. It could be a bit more of a time stamped story. As you develop, and charge a much higher hourly rate, and utilize batter equipment, the report you provide to an insurance company, a law firm or even a political PACT, better be a well thought out, beautifully formatted product in terms of details, timestamps, descriptions, distances, and above all, facts. Field work is undeniably important but it has to be followed up with a presentation of facts in a undisputable, understandable easily read report. This will make you priceless to high paying clients. If your self employed, you don't have to share the credit, or the fee.

Cons of Being a Private Investigator

1. Unpredictable Hours

The nature of investigative work often requires working outside of the standard 9-5 hours. Surveillance work might involve long, irregular hours, including nights and weekends. This can be challenging for those who prefer a more structured schedule.

2. Potentially Dangerous Situations

While not all PI work is dangerous, some situations can be risky. Dealing with criminal activities, conducting surveillance, or even delivering legal documents can sometimes lead to confrontations or hazardous situations.

3. Emotional Stress

Investigative work can be emotionally taxing. PIs often deal with sensitive cases involving infidelity, child custody, missing persons and death investigations. Managing the emotional aspects of such cases, while maintaining professionalism, can be challenging.

4. Financial Instability

For self-employed PIs or those starting their own agency, income can be unpredictable. Building a client base takes time, and there might be periods of minimal work. This financial uncertainty can be a significant stressor, especially in the early stages of a career.

5. Legal and Ethical Challenges

Private investigators must navigate a complex web of laws and ethical considerations. Ensuring compliance with legal regulations, such as privacy laws and evidence handling, is crucial. Missteps can lead to legal issues, damaging both reputation and career.

Educational and Training Requirements

6. Work-Life Balance

The work-life balance for a PI can be challenging to maintain. The unpredictable hours and the need to be “on-call” can interfere with personal time. However, for those who thrive in a non-traditional work environment, these challenges can be part of the appeal.

7. Longevity and Advancement

The career path for a private investigator can vary. Some may choose to specialize in certain areas, while others may advance to start their own agency. The profession can offer longevity for those who continuously update their skills and adapt to changing technologies and methodologies.


A career as a private investigator offers a unique blend of excitement, autonomy, and intellectual challenge. It’s suited to those who are self-motivated, enjoy problem-solving, and can handle the emotional and physical demands of the job. However, it’s also a career marked by irregular hours, potential danger, and financial uncertainty. Those considering this path should weigh these factors carefully and consider gaining experience in related fields or shadowing an experienced PI before making a decision. As with any career, success as a private investigator comes from a combination of skill, dedication, and a deep understanding of the profession's challenges and rewards. If you have specific questions about the field of private investigations, let us know. That's why we're here!

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