Detectives, also commonly referred to as investigators, are typically law enforcement officials who have specialist skills in investigating a wide variety of cases. These professionals may work with a law enforcement agency, be self-employed, or may be called in when certain cases present themselves.

Each case that a detective takes on is different; this makes the job difficult to predict. Their job duties are also varied and are dependent upon the particular case at hand. In general, detectives are required to work irregular hours as a case may warrant. They’ll need to collect evidence, interview witnesses, conduct investigations, and attempt to solve difficult cases.

The job of a detective is demanding and requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. If this is a career that you are seriously interested in pursuing, read on to learn more about how you can become a detective.

What does a Detective do?

A detective, also known as a criminal investigator, is a professional who typically works alongside a law enforcement agency. These are law enforcement officials who have put in a significant amount of time and training to gather the requisite skills needed to solve complex crimes and cases.

Detectives are typically called in when a serious situation presents itself, which is beyond the skill-set of police officers. Once they arrive, detectives begin to carry out investigations into the case at hand. This includes collecting evidence, interviewing possible witnesses, making arrests, interviewing potential suspects, filling reports, etc.

Because so much depends upon the specific case at hand, it is very difficult to draw up an accurate representation of the job of a detective. Each case is unique and therefore detectives are required to be able to adapt to the situation at hand.

The job of a detective is full-time and the hours are often long and erratic. Oftentimes, detectives find themselves working late into the night and throughout their weekends. This is a career which can be grueling and dangerous. It is likely that detectives will come into contact with dangerous criminals in the course of duty, and therefore the risk of personal injury and death is always present. There is however a huge pay-off with careers like these; protecting the public is a hugely rewarding profession.

Types of Detectives

Different detectives are called in for specific crimes and cases. Examples of the many different types of detectives include:

  • Fraud detectives
  • Homicide detectives
  • Burglary detectives
  • Missing persons detectives
  • Organized crimes detectives
  • Auto theft detectives

Steps to becoming a Detective

If you are thinking of pursuing a career as a detective, here’s what you need to know. Becoming a detective requires hard work and training. It is not a career you merely enter; you need to work hard in law enforcement in order to be promoted to the rank of a detective.

Requirements for becoming a detective

Prospective candidates must meet these basic requirements:

  • Hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (Note that the exact educational requirements vary by law enforcement agency. Some agencies may just require an associate’s degree. Therefore check with the law enforcement agency you intend to apply to beforehand.)
  • Have served a significant amount of time in law enforcement (on the State or Federal level)

The steps for becoming a detective are roughly as follows:

  1. Fulfill your education requirements. This is usually a degree in criminal justice or a related field.
  2. Join the police force and complete your training in the police academy.
  3. Develop a wide range of skills and increase your physical and mental fitness while working in law enforcement. This will prove to be extremely useful when you’re being considered for a promotion to detective.
  4. Acquire and build upon your work experience. Law enforcement agencies seek out experienced candidates for promotion to the rank of detective.

Job Prospects and Salary

According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, detectives and criminal investigators earned the most in the following cities:


Annual Mean Wage

Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY Metropolitan Division


Brunswick, GA


San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division


Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division


Anchorage, AK


In terms of job prospects, data from O*NET Online suggests that there will be little to no growth in the field between 2014 and 2024. There are projected to be around 28,300 job openings during this period for which competition will be fierce. Therefore, candidates are advised to do all that they can to set themselves apart from other applicants.