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If you are new to the investigative business, you are certainly in for a treat.

But if you are just getting started, here are some nuggets of wisdom that I have picked up over the years that may help you along.

Surround yourself with great people

One of the golden rules of business is to surround yourself with smart, talented people. There are plenty of investigators out there. More than 35,000 in the United States, to be more exact.

Some good, and some not so good.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been surrounded by great investigators over the years. Not just your run of the mill small town investigator who only conducts surveillance. Investigators from a variety of backgrounds, with varying skill sets and a range of knowledge in a multitude of areas, each of which has played a part, one way or another, in shaping me as an investigator.

Take on s**t that nobody wants

In one of my first tasks as an investigator I was asked to drive two hours each day to eastern Long Island and, page by page, review and copy 10+ boxes of a lawsuit. It took nearly two weeks to finish. Needless to say, it certainly was not the most stimulating work I had ever done.

But I quickly learned that when you do the work that nobody else wants to do, you suddenly become the guy who will do whatever it takes. You’re not just the schlep who makes copies; you are the guy who will take on whatever is thrown at him.

The alternative is being that guy who nobody wants to approach, because he is bound to be “busy” or is not interested.

Learn by doing

I couldn’t care less how many years you’ve worked in law enforcement, what degree in criminal justice you have or how many criminology books you have read. In this business you have to learn by doing.

Not that years in law enforcement don’t count, or your master’s in criminal justice didn’t teach you anything, but it’s just not the same. Practical experience in the business of private investigations is what matters most.

There are no shortcuts to experience. Malcolm Gladwell argues that 10,000 hours of practice is the key to success in any field. No amount of wisdom will take the place of experience and plain old hard work.

Get out of your comfort zone

We all have it … that area you reach just before you start feeling uncomfortable. That place where you are content and just happy to be. The problem with it is that it eventually creates boredom and staleness and is completely unfulfilling.

The investigative industry is constantly changing. Access to information, laws, types of cases, technology and skills needed.

If you get too comfortable, stop learning and get bored … you might become obsolete as quickly as you got into the business.

Be available

If you want a 9-to-5 job, you are in the wrong business. Friday night requests that need to be finished Monday and all-nighters are par for the course.

We all want to have a personal life, but do yourself a favor. Don’t be that guy who can’t stay late during the week, always has plans on the weekend and can’t arrive before 9 a.m. to wrap up a big case.

Trust me! You don’t want to be that guy.

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4 replies
  1. NITA
    NITA says:

    I think by taking the cases that nobody wants, you are building a nice foundation of clients that will assist with word of mouth referrals. Great blog here.

  2. Police Science Institute
    Police Science Institute says:

    First of all I wanted to thank you for this great post. As I am also in the private investigation area so I know that private investigation is very challenging job because PI must have a patience, a good observation skill and a keen knowledge of laws, photography. I really appreciate your work and hope that many people get the inspiration from this post.

  3. olive gilsenan
    olive gilsenan says:

    Hi,
    I just wanted to thank you for all the advice and tips you put up on this site it has been invaluable to me and my new business.
    I live and work in Ireland and I have no police or military background and apart from my Online Diploma which I received from ITEC I am otherwise self thought as a Private Investigator and I am learning all the time. I was a little late in life finding my passion but I am loving every single minute of my life as I know I was truly born for this.
    I needed a Private Investigator about 8 years ago and I wasn’t happy with the ones I spoke to so I decided to go at it myself and I quickly realized I had a flair and a passion for it and I have never looked back.
    I am one of only a few women PI’s in Ireland and I would really love to know if you can help me find or put me in touch with female PI’s in the U.S who respect the industry and are completely law abiding. I would love to do an article on this subject for my own research and also for the wider public to gain access to so that other women who wish to be PI’s here In Ireland can learn from us.
    If you can help It would be much appreciated.
    Kindest Regards,
    Olive Gilsenan.
    Mobile numbers (cell phone) 086 7227 359 OR 086 4454 628

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Thanks Olive and best of luck to you. The two female investigators that come to mind are Francie Koehler, who host’s a show called PI Diclassified, and Tamara Thomson, who has a popular blog called PIbuzz.com.

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