We like to think of a private investigator as a hard-boiled guy in a fedora. Cigarette in mouth, he roams the dark city streets, solving crimes with his wits. The fact is that private investigation is a profession. And like any profession, it requires training in a particular set of skills.
So what does a Private Investigator need in order to be good at the job?
We like to think of surveillance as a guy in a car with a thermos and a camera. It’s not that simple. There are different kinds of surveillance, each requiring its own subset of skills. The guy in the car knows how to operate all kinds of equipment — still cameras, video cameras, audio equipment and more. And he or she definitely needs to know how to tail someone without getting noticed, which is another skill. Other kinds of surveillance require serious computer skills.
In any kind of surveillance, a private detective needs patience and well developed powers of observation. They learn what to look for. For instance, when someone tries their car door handle after locking it they’re probably turning in for the night. And thieves will almost always take a quick look around right before they steal something.
A really important aspect of the job is the ability to get information from all kinds of sources. Private investigators spend a lot of time sifting through personal, business and government documents, on paper and online.
A good PI knows how to get information from people. We’re not talking about interrogation, but about asking questions, often in a way that feels more like chatting than an interview. Good private investigators do their research, so they’re prepared. They know when to ask an open-ended question and when to get specific. They know how to listen. And here too they need observational skills, because body language can reveal when someone is lying or withholding something.
Critical thinking skills.
A PI makes hundreds of decisions when pursuing an investigation. And the success of an investigation relies upon the quality of his or her decisions. Professional PIs don’t let emotions get in the way of an investigation. They understand the need for objectivity in evidence-gathering and how to analyze the information without bias. They also have a firm grasp of the law in their state, so they can make decisions in the best interests of the client.
It’s not enough to gather information. Information gathered should be verified for accuracy. PIs communicate that factual information to their colleagues and clients clearly and concisely.
So how do you go about acquiring these skills? Believe it or not, in college. City College offers an Associate’s Degree in Private Investigation Services that can teach you everything you need to know to get started in this fascinating profession. If you want more information about how you can take the first step towards a career as a PI, click here.