What is it like to be a private investigator? This should be the question you if you are interested in this line of work. A private investigation career has its good points and its bad points. Typically I think the bad points stand out more than the good points. With that being said, I probably would not be in this career unless there was something good to say about it. Just because I talk about some of the struggles in this industry does not mean it isn’t a good industry to be in.
When interviewing a candidate for a position as a private investigator, I believed the best thing I could do for that potential employee who is new to the industry, is try to talk them out of the job. If they still show interest after our conversation, then they moved on in the hiring process.
Years ago I was a supervisor with a nation-wide investigative company. When interviewing a candidate for a position as a private investigator, I believed the best thing I could do for that potential employee who is new to the industry, is try to talk them out of the job. If they still show interest after our conversation, then they moved on in the hiring process.
To begin with what it’s like to be a private investigator, I am going to share some insight into some of the things that I know other investigators have disliked and some of the things I disliked about this profession. So here are some reasons you might not want to be a private investigator in no specific order.
What is it Like to be a Private Investigator?
#1.) What is it Like to Be a Private Investigator With No Set Schedule
Whether you have your own private investigation business or you work for a company you will have to be incredibly flexible with your schedule. You can get a call to work unexpectedly for an assignment on the same day as the call, or you may have to work unexpectedly longer hours during a surveillance. You may travel several hours to a surveillance assignment and be out of town for several days. Then just when the assignment is about to be complete the client will ask you to stay a few more days away from home. Let me be the first to tell you this is extremely hard on a family.
If you turn down an assignment as a business owner, that client will be forced to take their business elsewhere. When taking their business elsewhere they will likely be able to find a company that will not turn down assignments and you may never see work from that client again.
So basically picture a lifestyle where it is very difficult to plan anything due to the flexibility that a private investigator must have. Imagine missing holidays, birthdays and being away from home for extended periods of time. Much of this is in reference to the life of a surveillance investigator and even a domestic investigator dealing with cheating spouse cases. Investigators supporting attorneys may have a bit more of a normal lifestyle with less travel, but there will be extended unpredictable hours of operation.
#2.) Some Danger Involved
You might not think there is any danger associated with this industry but I can tell you first hand that there is plenty of it. Private Investigators supporting attorney’s with gathering evidence might not find themselves in positions of danger as often as a surveillance investigator.
Insurance Fraud investigators will likely find their dangerous moments with aggressive claimants, witnesses and/or neighbors. Early in my private investigation career, I found myself being caught (the person I was watching figured out I was watching them) quite a bit. Much of it was due to inexperience and enthusiasm. Once the individual realizes they were being followed they are likely to make it very apparent that they know you are there. Some individuals have followed me for extended periods and in once case approached me with a gun. Some of my fellow coworkers in the past have been blocked into a parking spot by the individual’s vehicle or had knives pulled out on them. These are just some of my experiences. These types of situations can be very traumatizing to an investigator or anyone for that matter. This is something to consider when conducting surveillance.
#3.) Uncomfortable Moments
Being a private investigator requires you to have very many uncomfortable moments. In surveillance, you are required to park in a neighborhood as discreetly as possible. Neighbors are looking in your vehicle windows, kids are playing around your vehicle, you become extremely paranoid that you are moments away from something bad happening. In some situations, neighbors confront you as to why you are parked in the area and you do your best to justify your presence in the neighborhood with a pretext. Meanwhile, you are hoping that the person you are watching doesn’t catch wind of you being in the neighborhood and you also hope that the neighbors don’t figure out who you are or who you are watching.
When interviewing claimant’s, or witnesses, there will be uncomfortable moments where there is some defensiveness or hostility on behalf of the individual being interviewed.
#4.) No Dependable Paycheck
Whether you are a business owner or you are working for an agency, you never truly know the amount of work you will receive from week to week. Most likely you are accustomed to a dependable schedule with a check that is the same amount every week. This is not true for the private investigation industry. Most private investigators employed with a company will never have a guaranteed paycheck every week unless they are a salaried employee. Most salaried employees with a private investigation agency work in an office environment.
If you are a field investigator you may work assignments for 1 to 8 hours. A surveillance might be scheduled for eight hours but you could be compromised, lose them during the investigation, or you might not be able to determine if they are home. Your day might be completed at the 4 hour mark and either you will have to make up the lost time on another day or the client might ask that you discontinue surveillance efforts and send them a bill. Essentially your skills
There have been times where I have traveled 4 hours to a case to only work 4 hours and then return home. This type of day can feel like a waste time but it is part of the job.
#5.) Wear and Tear on your vehicle
If you want to be a surveillance investigator, be prepared to put anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 miles on your vehicle in a given year. Keep in mind all of the maintenance on your vehicle each year.
There are many companies out there that supply a surveillance vehicle, pay for your fuel or pay you mileage. In most cases, investigators are only paid mileage which is passed on to the client. If you are a business owner you can pass on the costs to the client or eat some of the cost and write it off at the end of the year. Just keep in mind that the life of your vehicle will be much shorter as a surveillance investigator.
#6.) It can be expensive
Just simply running a private investigation business can be extremely costly. Consider gas prices, insurance, maintenance on your vehicle, phone lines, fax lines, office space (if needed), advertisement, purchasing equipment and licensing fees.
If you are working for someone, you typically need to maintain/purchase your own equipment (computer, video camera, covert cameras, computer, cell phone, digital recorder, tri-pod, mono-pod). If work slows down for the company you are working for, you will either have to live off of what you saved over the year or find something to replace that income temporarily. This is something I and many other investigators have had to deal with throughout our careers.
#7.) You are only as good as your last investigation
“You are only as good as your last investigation” is something you will most likely hear throughout your career. Insurance companies will only remember you “typically” for the last assignment you worked. If the surveillance you performed was lousy, then that might be how they remember you or the company you work for. It doesn’t matter how may surveillance cases you knocked out of the park, or how many great interviews you obtained, clients have short memories. It seems like a tough life to live, but if you keep that in mind with every assignment, you will likely keep the company you are working for, or the client happy.
Exceptions to the rule
Your experience as a private investigator will not be the same as mine or any other investigator. You will likely feel much of the frustrations I and many other investigators have dealt with over the years. There are awesome and gratifying experiences as a private investigator, but I believe in preparing for the worst parts and enjoying the good moments as they come.
That wraps up some general issues with the industry that you should be prepared for. There are plenty of other topics I could have discussed but I will save it for a future post. Thank you for reading and be safe.