Employment Prospects


There are 110,700 police detectives and criminal investigators and 33,000 private detectives and investigators employed in the United States. Police detectives work for police departments or other government agencies. Private investigators usually work for a private detective firm or for a business.

Starting Out

If you are interested in becoming a detective, you should contact your local police department, the civil service office or examining board, or private detective agencies in your area to determine hiring practices and any special requirements. Newspapers may list available jobs. If you earn a college degree in police science, criminal justice, or law enforcement, you may benefit from your institution's career services or guidance office. Some police academies accept candidates not sponsored by a police department, and for some people this may be the best way to enter police work.

Advancement Prospects

Advancement within a police department may depend on several factors, such as job performance, length of service, formal education and training courses, and special examinations. Large city police departments, divided into separate divisions with their own administrations, often provide greater advancement possibilities.

Because of the high dropout rate for private investigators, those who manage to stay in the field for more than five years have an excellent chance for advancement. Supervisory and management positions exist, and some private investigators start their own agencies.

Tips for Entry

Contact your local police department and request a tour of the facility that may include an information interview with a detective to learn more about the job.

While in high school take a well-rounded course of study, with classes in English, American history, business law, government, psychology, sociology, chemistry, and physics. Classes in journalism, computers, and a foreign language are also beneficial.

Train and become certified in the safe handling and use of firearms and other weapons.

Take a training course in self-defense or martial arts through your local parks department or a private facility.

Visit the Teens and Kids page of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Web site ( for information, games, and tips about the career.