Becoming a Private Investigator in California is different from most other places. The difference is that California does not require much for you to work as a PI for a Private Investigator agency. You simply need to be employed under a PI who has a full California Private Investigator's license. You won't even need to take a Private Investigator course or official state Private Investigator training to work for a California PI. However, you won’t be a licensed PI but you can work as one. This can be viewed as you being a Private Investigator under supervision. A full California PI license allows you to work for yourself (your own business.). This requires you to have previous investigative experience. Other than investigative experience, you need to meet basic Private Investigator requirements such as age, language proficiency, and other usual PI requirements of this nature. Furthermore, you do not need to take a government approved PI licensing course (most other places you do). However, to become a Private Investigator in California, you will need to take a California government PI licensing test: "California Private Investigator Examination." In California, the government body that controls licensed CA Private Investigators is The California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Once you submit the proof of your ability to meet the requirements and completion of the Private Investigator licensing test to the The California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, you will get your PI license. Most jurisdiction will have a PI beginner’s license, California does not. However, being employed under a licensed California PI is similar to a beginner’s PI license. This is where your struggle will begin.
The problem with California requiring previous investigative experience is that there is no such thing as equivalent Private Investigator experience. Sure, a career in law enforcement will gain you some transferable skills to bring to the PI world. However, an investigative career outside of PI work will not provide you the skill-set to perform what we do the most: single person surveillance for insurance fraud investigations. Furthermore, PIs typically obtain all evidence via quality and litigious video. This is uncommon for most other investigative careers. Being a police officer will not make you a good PI the same way being a PI will not make you a good police officer.
You must be 18yo or older.
You must have a clean criminal record.
You must have PI experience.
You must pass a government test.
Private Investigator Jobs: How to Get Hired?
Your Private Investigator beginner’s license in California is just being support staff to a California PI agency. It will allow you to work for a PI agency, but you will not be able to work for yourself (your own PI company). This means you must work under the supervision of a fully licensed California PI agency. However, the term “under supervision” will be in namesake only. You will not be supervised or guided by an experienced Private Investigator. In fact, PI agencies are not economically structured to have mentor/ student surveillance teams. Furthermore, a background in non-PI investigations will give you some transferable knowledge but it will not set you up to become a successful Private Investigator. New Private Investigators still need to know how to be successful working operations. This is why practical Private Investigator education and training specifically for Private Investigators is necessary.
This lack of guidance is why so many rookie California Private Investigators burn out and quit and why many experienced Private Investigators are jaded. On top of this, PI clients with small budgets typically get the new unqualified Private Investigators, nobody wins in this situation. It is also not fair to small PI clients to use their files to haphazardly train new Private Investigators.
So, the time comes for you to work investigations with no Private Investigator experience or education. If you took a PI course or PI training, it most likely focused on legal matters with no real practical Private Investigator training or topics. You will always be told by employers that “soon you will get some PI training,” which never happens. It took me over five years to figure out the industry and get good at a few specialized fields. During that time, I struggled and probably lost several hundred thousand dollars due to losing work opportunities from a lack of skill and education. What is sad is that this is a common story in the industry. If you make it through this meat grinder of an industry and get a California PI license, you be qualified to work for yourself with your own PI agency. Hopefully, when you are hiring new Private Investigators, you will appreciate the importance of proper PI education.
Thinking of Becoming a California Private Investigator?
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Become a Great California PI
Yes, you can become a great California Private Investigator. How? Through Private Investigator education. Not through the short California government licensing course, but through at least 100hrs of practical Private Investigator education. This can be online Private Investigator training classes or in an in-class training environment. In order to become a successful California Private Investigator and meet Private Investigator requirements, you need to become educated on the complexities of the private investigation industry (this will also help you decide if you want to pursue the PI career) and how to set yourself up to become a successful Private Investigator. Secondly, you will need to become educated on how to perform investigations.
To learn the complexities of the California private investigation industry you will need to understand a few Private Investigator industry topics. Regional licensing requirements for Private Investigators will teach you what you need to obtain your California Private Investigator license. To help you decide if you want to enter the career of private investigation you, will have to learn the common misconceptions about the Private Investigation industry. Understanding the learning curve of a Private Investigator will set you up to become a successful PI.
Before entering the California PI industry, it is useful to know the challenges encountered as a Professional Private Investigator. This will also help you make career decisions. Then you need to learn what you will be doing as a Private Investigator. Learning the areas of specialization as a Professional Private Investigator and types of clients and corresponding file requirements will help with this. You will need to learn how California Investigators obtain assignments and hours of work to determine if this work environment is right for you.
If you are concerned about your ability to perform as a California Private Investigator and how to be a Private Investigator that is successful, learning what factors will determine your aptitude as a Professional Private Investigator and what makes a “good” Professional Private Investigator will be essential. It is also important to know the physical and health requirements and health considerations. Then there is equipment. Learning about equipment needed in order to get started in a career as a Professional Private Investigator is a must.
Furthermore, you will need to educate yourself on communication devices and their role in private investigation. Lastly and most importantly, you must learn “The Investigative Mindset.” This will teach you how to think like a Private Investigator. After you learn these concepts, you will be well on your way to becoming a Private Investigator even without experience.
After learning the complexities of the California private investigation industry, you will need to develop practical skills in various areas. The most important areas are Desk Investigations, Pre-surveillance, surveillance, mobile vehicle surveillance, on-foot surveillance, obtaining evidence, and litigious reporting. To learn Desk Investigations, you will need to understand what is a Desk Investigation, Desk Investigation nomenclature, corroborated/ circumstantial evidence, The Evidence Document, The Desk Investigators Mindset, Google Basics for North America, and social media search basics for North America. Surveillance will be the largest subject to learn. Under this field you should learn about setting up a proper surveillance vehicle, surveillance spot checks, and surveillance set ups for various investigative operations.
As a California Private Investigator, you will spend the majority of your time performing investigations solo. This is why learning single person surveillance is crucial. Furthermore, you will occasionally work in surveillance teams, so you will need to learn how to perform surveillance with two or more surveillance operatives. California Private Investigators perform a lot of their surveillance from a surveillance vehicle, but also on foot, you will need to learn this also. The entire reason California Private Investigators are hired, is to obtain evidence. Obviously, learning how to obtain evidence, mostly in video form, is a must. As a California Private Investigator, you will need to obtain quality video that is litigious and that will satisfy your client. At the end of all this, you will need to learn how to create an investigative report that will most likely be used in litigation. After you learn all of this, you will have no trouble becoming a successful California Private Investigator.
It should be apparent now, why and how you can become a California Private Investigator. Yes, the government licensing course is necessary but it will not set you up for success as a Private Investigator. You will always need at least 100hrs of practical Private Investigator education. You will need to learn the PI industry, as well as how to perform. In fact, becoming a Private Investigator through proper education will set you up to become more successful than Investigators with many years of experience but who have not developed a strong foundation with proper Private Investigator education.
What You Need to Learn to Become a successful California PI
Regional licensing requirements for California Professional Private Investigators
Common misconceptions about the Private Investigation industry
The learning curve of a Professional Private investigator
Personal challenges encountered as a California Professional Private Investigator
Areas of specialization as a California Professional Private Investigator
Types of California clients and corresponding file requirements
How California Investigators obtain assignments and hours of work
What factors will determine your aptitude as a Professional Private Investigator
What makes a “good” Professional Private Investigator?
Physical health requirements and health considerations
Equipment needed in order to get started in a career as a Professional Private Investigator
Computers, tablets and peripherals
NATO – Phonetic Alphabet
The Investigative Mindset
What You Need to Learn to "Perform" California Investigations
How Desk Investigations are performed
Corroborated & circumstantial evidence
What is evidence & how to structure it
The Evidence Document
The Investigative Mindset
Google as an investigative tool
Social media & investigative search basics for North America
Daily Gear Protocol
Data & evidence security
Active mobile surveillance two or more investigators
Skill vs, luck and circumstances
Risk vs. reward
Understanding & managing Heat
Driving methods for different areas or environments
Filming best practices
Transitioning to foot surveillance
Transitioning back to a surveillance vehicle
Mobile foot surveillance
Identifying the subject
Clothing and props
The physics or mechanics of foot surveillance
Covert equipment & techniques
On foot following techniques & best practices
Transitioning in and out of buildings
Video framing and quality
The Learning Curve of a California Private Investigator
A novice in any of the California Private Investigator fields or disciplines is an individual who has less than 2400 hours of experience and Private Investigator training. Once California PIs achieve 2400 hours of Private Investigator experience, they will have the confidence and expertise to work independently. When a California Private Investigator acquires over 10,000 hours of experience in a given field, they are considered to be proficient in that particular field or discipline. Due to the many disciplines in the California Private Investigator industry, it would take many years of hard work and effort to master them all. Most PIs choose to specialize in a few fields rather than trying to become experts in all areas.
A novice California Private Investigator, no matter how intelligent, must learn through experience. Private Investigator school is an excellent way to build a solid foundation; however, to become fully capable a novice California PI will need experience. The learning curve is defined by specific skills one can only obtain by working in the professional investigative industry.
An experienced California Private Investigator will have a better ability to predict situations and know what information to look for. A novice Investigator is more likely to experience tunnel vision of thought and action due to stress and other contributing factors. These factors will contribute to the novice missing details that a more experienced investigator would have spotted and leveraged to move the investigation forward.
The experienced California Professional Private Investigator will have seen many typical situations in a particular field and will adapt their methods as they apply knowledge from past experiences.
In the California Private Investigator profession, you will never stop encountering new situations that will act as learning opportunities to increase your knowledge and skills. If you ever arrive at a point in your career when you believe you can do no wrong, be prepared to be reminded that this is a lifelong journey. The Professional Investigator draws from the past, uses that information in real time to make calculated decisions and anticipates things yet to happen. Effective experience-based decisions will benefit the client and shape your reputation as a California Investigator.
At the 10,000-hour mark, a California Private Investigator is considered a master in whatever field they obtained those hours. They will have encountered nearly every situation imaginable in that field and have a vast repository of experiences to work with. When a new situation does occur, the master Investigator will be able to apply the Private Investigator knowledge gained from past experiences to the new situation. Furthermore, the master Investigator will not be susceptible to tunnel vision and will be able to think clearly in new situations, even intense ones.
About the Author
Peter Sandru is an Instructor & Co-Founder of NDIL with over 13 years as a Professional Private Investigator. Peter has spent more than a decade conducting investigations and security operations throughout the world, primarily for corporations, law firms, and government agencies. Peter has assisted in the creation of numerous investigative & security training programs in various capacities. Thru NDIL, Peter has trained many Californian students.