How to Become a Detective

Three Methods:Meeting the RequirementsBecoming a Police DetectiveBecoming a Private Detective

If you want to be a detective because you love following the exciting developments in Law and Order, you probably need a reality check before you move forward. Being a detective can be exciting, but it also requires hard work, perseverance, and long hours spent following leads and waiting for developments. There are two main types of detectives: police detectives and private detectives. If you want to know if you have what it takes to become a detective, follow these steps.

Method 1
Meeting the Requirements

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    Meet the educational requirements. If you want to be a detective, having a high school diploma or a GED is the bare minimum requirement for both types. But if you pursue a higher education and graduate with an associates or even a bachelor's degree in something relevant to police work, such as criminal justice, criminal law, criminology, human relations, judicial function, forensic science, political science, and criminal procedure, then you will make yourself an even more desirable candidate. Many agencies require college coursework or a college degree.[1]
    • You can even find a degree program that includes an internship component, which will give you more real-life experience.
    • While you're educating yourself, see if you can find a useful foreign language for your community, such as Spanish. Knowing a foreign language is a major asset for many urban departments and federal agencies, and this will help make you a desirable candidate, especially if you live in an area where a second language is commonly spoken.
    • Getting a college or bachelor's degree will also make it likely for you to have a higher starting salary.
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    Be at least 21 years old. This is another requirement in both states, so you won't be able to be a detective when you're right out of high school. While you're waiting to turn 21, you can benefit from some relevant training or getting a higher education.
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    Meet the physical requirements. When you apply to be a detective, you'll need to pass a physical exam to show that you have sound vision, hearing, strength, and agility.
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    Have a clean record. If you have a felony conviction, you may be disqualified. You may also be asked to take a lie detector test and go through a series of interviews, so make sure that you are honest about your past.
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    Have a driver's license. You will need a driver's license to be a detective.
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    Possess the qualities you need to be a good detective. Though you can work on developing these qualities over the course of your career, starting off with a base of qualities that make you perfect for the job can improve your chances of success. Here are some of the qualities that are crucial for success as a detective:
    • The ability to multi-task. Though you may be focusing on one case at a time, you will always have multiple tasks and lots of paperwork to get done within a short time frame, so you need to be able to juggle a variety of tasks at once.
    • Superior communication skills. If you want to investigate a crime to the best of your ability, then you'll need to be able to talk to people in a comforting yet firm manner to ensure that you get the best information possible.
    • Strong writing skills. Being a detective isn't all about going out into the field, having high-speed chases, and following exciting leads. There will be plenty of writing involved, and you'll need to know how to best express the details about an incident through concise, accessible writing.
    • Patience. If you want to be a good detective, then you can't obsess over solving a case immediately; it can take months, or even years, to follow a lead, and a lot of your detective work will lead to dead ends.
    • Perceptiveness. You need to develop the ability to take in all of the details of a crime scene, and to think of the information in an original way that can get you a step closer to finding the solution.

Method 2
Becoming a Police Detective

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    Get trained as a police officer. Though being a police officer isn't mandatory for being a detective, it is highly recommended. You can get experience in other ways, such as military training, but this is the most well-trodden path. As a police recruit, you'll need to complete the training academy program, which will require you to pass written and physical tests before you become an officer. You can get your training at a local police department, or a state or federal agency. These courses typically run about 14 weeks long.[2]
    • The programs involve training and classroom study that will include self-defense, traffic control, and first aid.
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    Gain work experience. Once you've become a police officer, you'll need to put in your best effort for at least three years before you're even eligible for a detective position. You'll need to let your superiors know that you want to be kept in mind for a promotion and that you're interested in being a detective. To prove yourself, you'll need to go above and beyond the call of duty, score high on agency exams, and get high marks in evaluations from your superiors. Here are some ways to make yourself stand out as you gain experience:
    • Brush up on the latest techniques and technology and be computer savvy. Study computer forensics to learn how to battle cyber crime. Always be up to date on the latest advances so that you're ready to be a detective when the time comes. Taking night college courses can help build your experience.
    • Stay physically fit. Continue to exercise regularly, to do aerobic and strength training, and to look physically fit so that you're able to handle the grueling nature of your job.
    • Develop your investigating skills. You must work to be perceptive and to pay attention to detail; these are crucial qualities for a detective.
    • Write detailed reports about crime scenes and accidents, showing that nothing can pass by you.
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    Be prepared to take a detective test at any time. If you know that your agency offers this test, you should be prepared to take it at any time, whether or not the agency has any openings. This will not only get you ready for the job, but it will show initiative and will make you more likely to succeed when the time comes.[3]
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    Get trained to be a detective. If you work in a state or a large police department, then you'll get training right in your own agency's police academy. But if you work in a smaller department, you may have to go to a state or regional academy to get your training. Your training will involve classroom instruction in civil rights, state laws, constitutional law, as well as police ethics. You will also get trained in other areas that include how to use firearms, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.
    • One option is to enter the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Academy. This academy provides training for municipal detectives.

Method 3
Becoming a Private Detective

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    Get the work experience. Though working as a police officer is still valuable experience for becoming a private detective, you can also work for insurance or collection companies, in finance, as a paralegal or a lawyer, or as an accountant. You can also have worked in the military or even in a federal intelligence jobs. Many people even become private detectives as a second career.[4]
    • Basically, any work experience in a field that is somewhat relevant to being a private investigator will help you become a better candidate for the job. No one would want to hire a private investigator who has absolutely no work experience.
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    Get licensed. Most states require you to be licensed as a private detective or investigator, so check out the requirements of your state. Some states have far more requirements than others. If you carry a handgun, then you will most likely have to meet additional requirements as well, depending on your state. Remember that you will need a permit to carry a firearm.[5]
    • If you're a computer forensic investigator, then your state may require you to be licensed as a private investigator as well. Even if it's not required, the license will help you follow up on investigative work.
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    Get certification from a professional organization. Some private detectives also get certification, which help them move up in their careers. If you specialize in negligence or criminal defense, then you can get certified at the National Association of Legal Investigators. If you specialize in security, then you can get certified by ASIS International, which offers the Professional Certified Investigator certification.
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    Get work at a private detective agency. This is typically the first step before you can go out on your own. Most of these agencies are small, without much room for advancement, and they do not have definite steps or ranks that you can follow to move up in your career. Still, you should gain a few years of experience at this agency before you try to make it on your own.
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    Consider being a private investigator for a corporation. If the private detective agency isn't your thing, you can also work as a corporate or legal investigator. This position is just as demanding as the work at a private agency, though you may spend less time in the field.
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    Consider starting your own firm. Once you have enough experience and have built up a client base, you can start your own firm if you want to be more independent. You can employ others or work on your own; though it may be difficult to start your own firm, you will reap the benefits when you succeed.


  • Detectives must be hardworking and dedicated. If you wish to pursue this career, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything to help others.
  • This information is gathered solely from the experiences of my family members and other law enforcement officials I have met. I am not a detective, nor do I claim to be.


  • Being a member of law enforcement is dangerous. Most people either distrust or outright dislike you based on your career. There will be many people who will want to hurt you in order to keep themselves from being charged with a crime.
  • Being a police detective is not like what you see on TV. It may be exciting and rewarding, but don't expect to be participating in high-speed car chases and shoot-outs every other day. Remember, CSI and Law & Order are filled with events that Hollywood has enhanced to make more fun to watch.
  • Before considering this career path, make sure that it's absolutely what you want to do. Remember, this is a difficult career that will take many years to achieve. Unless you're very committed, it's unlikely you'll become a detective.

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Categories: Legal Careers