How to Become a Criminal Investigator

If you are naturally curious and often find resourceful solutions to problems, you might be wondering how to become a criminal investigator. Criminal investigators are professionals who uncover and evaluate information that can help identify, find and convict criminals in a court of law. Criminal investigators differ from other kinds of private detectives in that they typically focus on crimes and finding alleged criminals rather than delving into an individual’s personal history, locating missing persons or serving as bodyguards.

Criminal investigators discover information through careful research and interviews with suspects, their close contacts and witnesses. They observe suspects firsthand, often secretly, through following them, conducting phone or video surveillance or investigating “undercover” in the guise of another identity. When working, criminal investigators must be careful to obey all laws themselves and ensure that any evidence of criminal behavior they collect is obtained through acceptable legal methods so that it will be permissible in a criminal trial. Criminal investigators must be comfortable using computers, phone calls and one-on-one in-person conversations to succeed in learning as much about a suspect as possible.

The requirements to secure a position as a criminal investigator vary. Some employers may consider candidates whose highest level of education is a high school diploma, while others seek candidates who have completed a formal education at a college or university. Even if it is not required for a specific position, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a field such as criminal justice or political science can improve an aspiring criminal investigator’s job prospects and earning potential.

While a few positions in criminal investigation may be entry-level, it is more common for criminal investigators to enter the occupation after they have already gained experience working in a related field, such as law enforcement or federal intelligence. Military veterans and former police officers or intelligence officers often cultivate investigative skills during their earlier careers that they ultimately use when they become criminal investigators. Many criminal investigators acquire some knowledge to draw from during their law enforcement careers but learn more of the skills they will need to succeed as criminal investigators through on-the-job training. State laws may require criminal investigators to hold a license. Criminal investigators may also seek certification as a Certified Legal Investigator from the National Association of Legal Investigators.

Criminal investigators earn a median annual salary of $77,860, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Actual wages may vary greatly depending on location, employer, experience and education, but top earners in this occupation have the potential to bring in six-figure salaries. Aspiring criminal investigators can look forward to a better-than-average job outlook, with the BLS anticipating a 21 percent rise in opportunities in this profession as compared to only 14 percent job growth expected across all occupations. If you have an inquisitive nature and can always devise creative ways to overcome challenges, knowing how to become a criminal investigator could be your first step toward a thrilling new career.

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