Getting to ‘be a detective’ is not something that happens quickly, and it is probably not something you will study directly in school (although your education choices are important). It is a process that starts with your early school years, the networking and activities you do (intern-ships, volunteer work), your post-secondary education, and then the job you take after graduating. There are many types of detectives and the path taken is unique to each type and person.
Who is suited to be a detective? Detective work is not suited for everyone. It requires long grueling hours, incredible patience, and an eye for detail. You should be ambitious, curious, and possess excellent problem solving skills. It can be physically and mentally exhausting at times. You may see dead bodies and be put in uncomfortable situations. That is why the right training is crucial to prepare you for the job.
This section will walk you through the major steps for becoming a detective.
Steps To Becoming A Detective
Step #1: Cultivating the right skills early on
Let’s start by saying if you miss some stuff here – that’s okay! Your skills are experiences can’t be perfect. These are general suggestions to get you ahead of the field. Like any other career, the earlier you plan and prepare, the better.
- Take challenging school courses. The sciences – biology, chemistry, and physics. Math, psychology, and foreign language courses (more on that below).
- Start learning a new language – This is so important! And starting early really helps. There are lots of great free tools online such as Duolingo. And check out Timothy Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Chef.
- Computer skills – Computers are increasingly used in all detective work. Go the extra step and really learn a computer skill. It could be graphic design, programming, web design, or internet marketing. If you can become an expert at something, you will pick up a ton of other skills along the way.
- Volunteer – Get involved in your community. Even if you decide not to be a detective, your volunteering experience will be useful.
- Stay clean. Criminal records are tough to shake, especially when pursuing a career in law enforcement. We all mistakes and juvenile records will probably be wiped, but try and stay on the right side of the law.
- Learn about different detective careers. Maybe you really enjoy chemistry and find out that chemistry is used in forensic detective work. It’s that sort of insight that will set you on the right course.
- Be attentive – Watch and learn what goes on around you. Notice colors of clothing in crows, unusual people, and interesting interactions (elevated voices, kissing, handshakes, etc.). You may want to write these observations down as that will cement the process. Eventually picking up these clues will be second nature!
Step #2: Post Secondary Education
Getting the right education for the job is imperative. The amount of education that you must have depends largely on the type of detective you want to be. A forensic detective for example will specialize in a science and likely earn a Masters or Doctorate degree. Some private investigators may just hold a GED. It really comes down to a mix of your work experience and education, but a good education is always going to advance your pursuit. So with that in mind, what should you study in university / college? Whatever interests you! But here are some suggestions:
- Any science – biology, chemistry, physics…
- Any criminal justice related course / law course
- Financial and accounting courses – Who do you think catches guys like Bernie Madoff?
- Psychology / sociology (to a lesser degree)
- Language courses – these can’t be stressed enough. Knowing one or two additional langues can be a tremendous asset, not only in becoming a detective, but it most other career paths. Do it already!
- Even courses like philosophy and comparative religions can be useful (and fun).
Step #3: Getting a Job Post Graduation
By now you should have some idea of what type of detective you want to be. If you are lucky, there’s a job lined up right out of school. Ideally you will find a job related to your schooling. If your job is in the criminal justice field, then you are well poised for a detective career. But don’t be discouraged if it’s not a perfect fit. Think of it as a stepping stone as all job experience is valuable.
- Becoming a police officer is an obvious choice for aspiring detectives. It opens the door to later being a private investigator, homicide detective, FBI agent, CIA agent, and others. Police training courses might run for 3-4 months and include physical tests, firearms training, and some education of laws and procedure. You will be required at the end to pass a physical and written exam.
- The application and interview – Actually applying for a detective job is hard work, and a big chunk of that work should go into the application. Focus on your skills and use a lot of real world examples. Highlight how and why you are a good problem solver. Your interview will be a lot easier if you submit a strong application. Not only will they be impressed, but you will be able to more easily relay why the job is for you. Be prepared to talk about your weaknesses. Show you are tough, capable, and have a cool head.
Different Detective Careers
Ready to learn more? You can find information on becoming a homicide detective, where investigators are responsible only for solving murders. Another problem solving career in high demand are forensic detectives (also known as crime scene investigators) who use their scientific knowledge to analyse crime scenes and evidence. Then there are the elite and highly esteemed FBI and CIA, both of which require a broad range of skills and educational backgrounds.