It took me 41 years and plenty of trial and error, but I finally found my calling.
I became a private investigator.
Here’s how it happened.
So there I was, 41 years old, blindsided by corporate bureaucracy, out of a job and staring into the face of an uncertain future. It was December 2017, and I had held an office job in the construction world for 15 years, too easily accepting its (and my own) complacency and always too tired or too busy to think about how stagnant it really was. When I found myself unemployed, like a moth to a flame, I began applying for jobs in the same industry.
As I pored over every internet job search site (Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, etc.) with my updated resume, I asked the questions, “Okay, so what next? I’ll get one of these jobs, then what?”
It was safe to say I was not very happy in my old job; it’s actually very safe to say that I was quite unhappy with it. But it was income, and it was steady. How much more could a non-college graduate really ask for? I used to have passion, drive and ambition; but 60 hours a week at an unfulfilling job will swallow all of that up without you even knowing it. At my age, I had no choice but to dive back into the field where I had all my experience, right?
Maybe not. Maybe this was my chance to change my future. I took some time for personal reflection and thought about what exactly I was truly passionate about.
Since the position of Jennifer Lawrence’s personal assistant was already taken, I had to look to my next passion. Coming from a family of law enforcement, I was always fascinated by investigations and detective work, and had an (almost) obsession with “finding the answer.” I’m also an empathetic Pisces with a need to help everyone. I thought to myself, “How can I harness those feelings and passions into a career?” You see, I’ve always had jobs, but never a career. I thought it would be great to be able to say, “I am a…” rather than “I work at…”
I knew my old friend Brian was a seasoned private investigator with his own firm, and I had picked his brain here and there over the years about the field, but never had any serious discussions about it. But now was the perfect time for one.
I always thought becoming an investigator would require a long process of schooling and training and passing tests. I never had the time or freedom to explore all of that, but now I did, so why not at least ask?
He was gracious enough to take some time from his very busy schedule to meet with me, without any knowledge of the nature of my request. We met for coffee and I explained my story to him. I asked what the process/timetable would be for acquiring a private investigator’s license. He informed me that you did not personally need a license if you were working for a licensed investigator. That shocked me, to say the least, and got my wheels turning.
Knowing that Brian had connections at other firms, I now hoped that at least maybe he could put in a good word for me somewhere. He said that he would call a few people and see what he could do for me. Almost in passing, he had mentioned that he himself had been considering hiring someone. Brian’s was a small operation, and he’d done so well for himself over the past nine years that he’d found himself often turning down work. He quickly iterated that he, however, would not be the one to hire me. I was totally inexperienced, a friend, and he didn’t think he necessarily had the time to devote to my training. In any case, I thanked him for talking to me and waited to hear back from him.
Brian was able to get me an interview with some close colleagues at a large local firm. I went in for an interview, and while I thought it went well, I would be a 41-year-old new hire in a job populated mainly by kids fresh out of college. I wasn’t sure I would be a perfect fit, but was willing to take that journey since I was quite sure this was the direction I wanted to move in.
I called Brian immediately after my interview to let him know how it went and to thank him again. He shocked me for the second time when he told me to hold off on accepting any job offers, as he thought he may, in fact, want to hire me after all. I thought that would be a dream scenario, as learning a whole new profession with an abundance of fluidity and moving parts would be a lot easier with one-on-one training from any single investigator, let alone one of the best in the profession.
We met again and went over his concerns about hiring someone with zero experience who was also a friend. We discussed all possible scenarios: Maybe he would think I wasn’t a good fit with his firm, maybe the job wouldn’t be what I had expected, or maybe I would just flat out be bad at it.
I assured him that no matter what the outcome was, I would not harbor any bad feelings if things didn’t work out. He needed time to think it over.
It was New Year’s Eve 2017 when I got the call that would change my life. On my way to an annual New Year’s Eve gathering, Brian called and told me he wanted to give it a go. I was going to be a private investigator! Needless to say, I now had a whole different outlook on the coming year when the ball that brought us into 2018 dropped.
I had been fully prepared to spend at least the next few months flooding the market with my resume and going on countless interviews for jobs that deep down I didn’t want. Instead, on January 15, 2018, I was going to embark on my new career!
I hoped I was ready.
Most people’s idea of what a private investigator is and does usually consists of following cheating spouses and sitting outside sketchy motels with binoculars. Brian made it quite clear to me from our first meeting that those were not the kinds of investigations we would be doing; our work was primarily done from the comfort of our desks. As long as we were helping people, it didn’t matter to me in the least where we were doing it from.
On my first day, I was introduced to the world of the modern investigator. A large bulk of my job consists of background investigations, searching for people, and finding and identifying contact information for former employees of specific companies. What surprised me most was exactly how much information you can find out about people’s lives through publicly available information. It’s quite astounding actually.
Using nothing but social media accounts, you can find out people’s friends, family members, birthdate, interests, where they live, where they vacation, where they work, groups they belong to, people and pages that they follow, and places they’ve visited. If the information isn’t available right on their Facebook profile page, it can be attained through America’s new favorite pastime: posting photos of everything they do and everywhere they go, even being kind enough to name the people that are with them. Instagram is more of the same. Twitter opens the door to their opinions and viewpoints on a wide variety of topics, giving you an even deeper look into the subject.
Another deep resource pool when looking into someone’s life and history is also publicly available: court records, criminal records, bankruptcy records, sex offender registries and, in some states, divorce records. These can give you invaluable insight into the life story of the subject. Most, if not all, of this information, is readily available to the public if you know where to look and whom to call.
The next world I was introduced to was that of online databases. The professional-grade databases require paid accounts as well as a “permissible purpose” (“a good reason” to the layman). But once you have those, the sky’s the limit on the information you can find. These databases are populated with past and present addresses, possible phone numbers, birthdates, Social Security numbers, properties owned, vehicles owned, professional licenses, etc. We also heavily utilize databases populated by news media and public records. These, too, can help identify or confirm property owned, licenses, corporate filings, etc.
One of the first lessons that Brian has very strongly emphasized is to always multisource your findings. No one resource is 100% dead solid accurate all of the time. Verifying multiple sources is an absolute must. The truth is, there aren’t a lot of names out there that belong to just one person, and a lot are more common than you think. You might be looking into the background of Argyle Lindermueller, a seemingly unique name. So you may see in the database that someone named Argyle Lindermueller was arrested for drug possession in 2011. You’ve struck gold! Right? Maybe not.
You note that the arrest happened in Marfa, Texas, but there is no evidence that your subject has ever lived west of Philadelphia. Now you’ve got to find other points of reference. The main one is the birthdate; does the birthdate of the arrested Argyle match the one of your subject? Did your subject ever attend school in Texas? Is there a totally different Argyle Lindermueller who has lived in Texas?
Multisourcing will help you verify that you have the right person. An offshoot of multisourcing that Brian has also taught me is not to run with a piece of information just because it’s the answer you want. This goes hand in hand with the old saying “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The short time it takes to verify your information is worth a lot more than the egg on your face if it proves to be false.
The Fun Stuff
Coming from my office job, where the bulk of the work was mindless, head down and repetitive, I have found that the digging and searching in different databases and social media sites is very exciting to me. Even within a basic structure of our typical background investigation, each case presents a different story, just as all our lives do.
I am a born people-watcher and a pretty astute observer, as human behavior has always fascinated me. For the short time of each investigation, I get a unique insight into the subject’s life, and with each life being so singularly nuanced, that work has been very exhilarating for me.
Another aspect of the job that I find fascinating is people-finding. Whether it’s a long-lost relative or a missing friend, someone is at their wits’ end and has exhausted all of their resources, and now they’re turning to us for help. Once again, maybe it’s the empath in me, but I instantly feel like it’s our responsibility to “save the day” for the client, even if it’s just to ease their minds. All people-finding cases present different challenges as well. If the client tells us the name, date of birth and the childhood home of the subject, we will most likely find them quite easily. If the client tells us her name is Jennifer Smith and “I think she was a nurse at Northern General in California in 1998,” that could prove to be much more difficult.
This is where the third shock came to me, but it was a good and profound shock. It was the first time I heard Brian tell a potential client that they shouldn’t hire us. I remember thinking to myself, “Huh? What?” This client was willing to pay our fee … what else do we need to know?
Brian explained something to me that seemed a tough pill to swallow, but also would be invaluable to me moving forward in this profession: You will not always find the answer. At least not within the budget and time frame agreed to with the client. Yes, if we had an unlimited budget and time, there isn’t anyone we couldn’t find, but we have to stay within the constraints of the agreement, and sometimes it is just not possible to do as much digging as we would like.
Brian always wants to help the client, and we will do whatever we can to do exactly that—whether it’s taking on the case, pointing them in the right direction, offering an outsider non-biased opinion or, yes, even telling them that there is no case. Making money is always a goal (we are running a business!), but serving the client the best way possible is the number-one priority.
Hearing that made me very happy and cemented in my brain that Diligentia was the best place for me.
I knew there would be many challenges embarking on my new career, and I was certainly not wrong about that. Since there is such a wide array of different databases and websites used in different ways on each case, it can very easily become overwhelming when figuring your approach to each case. I am learning to step back, take a deep breath, formulate a game plan and then execute it. This method has worked so far and helped me tremendously in my development as an investigator.
Easily the most challenging part for me stems from one of our most popular services offered: the “Deep Dive” background report. This is a report that, as the name suggests, goes much deeper than your average investigation. These are mainly requested when a multimillion-dollar corporation is appointing someone to a high-level position (e.g., board member, CEO), and doesn’t want to be surprised to learn that their new CFO claimed bankruptcy 12 years ago under an alias.
This type of investigation/report needs to encompass the subject’s entire career and any relevant and/or adverse media findings during their tenures. This can present a huge challenge when the subject has been on the board of 22 companies over the past 30 years. We are tasked with scouring the internet and databases containing news articles for each of those companies during the targeted time period of employment. Once we have stockpiled any and all information for each company, we will then “dig for gold”; sifting through all of the articles and posts to create a narrative for the subject’s time at each company.
That proved more difficult than I had anticipated. When I first found out that a big part of the job would be writing, I was thrilled. I consider myself a pretty good writer and an even better editor. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. You see, not only do we have to create the narrative and write it out cohesively for the report, but we have to do it within the budgeted time frame, because as I stated earlier, the firm has to make money too.
By the time I had identified what I thought the story was, Brian had identified it, written it and edited it. This proved to be the biggest struggle for me, as I felt I needed to justify my hiring by proving that I was a value to the firm. Not being able to provide the services within the budgeted time meant that not only would I not be making our firm any money, but I would actually be costing the firm money. My work ethic and conscience would not allow for this. I promised myself that I would do whatever I needed to do to prove myself—even working extra hours at night and on the weekend off the clock.
I was the supervisor at my office job—the best and most knowledgeable person, the one who did the training and who everyone else came to for answers. Now I was the one who needed the training. I was the one who needed the answers. While that was extremely frustrating for me, it was also kind of exciting. It meant that I was growing. I was getting outside the box I had lived in for 15 years and was expanding my knowledge.
I would turn this feeling into a positive. I promised myself I would do whatever it took to learn. In between working our very large caseload, I watched Brian’s online Masterclass (I highly recommend anyone in the field watch this), as well as other online private investigator courses, and I’ve tried to read whatever books I can.
I am now almost four months into my new career, and I’m still learning something new every day. Brian has often told me that he too is still learning, and becoming the best private investigator in the universe (my ultimate goal) is not something that is going to happen overnight. Brian saw enough potential in me, even at my lowest, to take a chance on me (something for which I am eternally grateful), and I have vowed to do everything in my power to assure him that he made the right decision.
This ride has just begun, and although I know there will be (and already have been) bumps in the road, I am very anxious and excited to see where this ride takes me.
After 41 years I have found my calling.
I am a private investigator.