How To

How to Become a Detective

Arran Stewart

Arran Stewart

Arran James Stewart is the co-founder and CVO of blockchain recruitment …


For any law enforcement department to function well, they need a detective. Without a doubt, detectives play a crucial role in investigating criminal activities, locating missing persons, and gathering evidence to help prosecutors bring lawbreakers to justice.

If you’ve been thinking about becoming a detective, it’s good to know beforehand what you’re getting into. Read on to learn more about detectives, including what they do, how being a detective differs from being a police officer, how to become one, the career outlook, and the skills required.

What Does a Detective Do?

Before embarking on the journey to becoming a detective, it’s good to understand what they do. Here’s what their work entails:

  • Helping prevent crime: The detective does this by gathering intelligence pointing to, for example, a drug trafficking gang or organized crime ring. After gathering enough evidence pointing to an imminent criminal activity, the detective may legally be allowed to invade these gangs or organizations and arrest these criminals before they can commit the crime.

  • Working with prosecutors to gather enough evidence: After apprehending the criminals, the detective works with the prosecutor to collect ample evidence supporting the arrest. Otherwise, without presenting sufficient evidence in a courtroom, there can’t be a ruling. It’s through this evidence that the law punishes the guilty and exonerates the innocent.

  • Helping resolve matters for civilians: For example, families with missing persons can hire a private detective or even seek help from a public detective to find their loved ones. Additionally, it’s the detective’s responsibility to constantly contact crime victims to inform them of arrests and court proceedings.

Detectives usually use informants to collect information. It’s this information that they use to gather evidence.

How Does a Detective Differ From a Police Officer?

Although the two jobs may seem somewhat similar, the job of a police officer completely differs from that of a detective.

While most police officers patrol and investigate any alarming activity within their areas of jurisdiction, detectives perform investigative work, including gathering information and building evidence.

Another difference between the two is their rank. Detectives are typical police officers who have obtained a promotion. That means they rank higher and thus their salaries tend to be higher since.

In addition, detectives have several areas of specialty, such as forensics, homicides, fraud, narcotics, and cybercrimes, while police officers have none. Additionally, police officers may require skills to do their job and licenses different from what detectives need.

Detective Job Career Outlook

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS ), a total of 105,980 people had secured employment as detectives in the public sector as of May 2020. By 2030, this number may have risen by 5%.

That means people with a bachelor’s degree, enough work experience, are trained police officers, and maybe speak more than one language are likely to have an edge in this stiff competition for detective positions.

But don’t panic. The private sector also absorbs detectives, and here, the growth rate in this field is a little over 8%. That means you have more opportunities in this area, especially if you have some work experience and possess interviewing and computer skills.

How to Become a Detective

There are two routes to take to become a detective.

The first route involves going to college and majoring in an area related to the criminal justice system or acquiring a bachelor’s degree.

However, most police departments in different states require training in a police academy for more certification before becoming a detective.

The second route is the traditional way, which involves the following steps:

  1. Obtain a high school diploma or GED.

  2. Enroll in a police academy and graduate. This typically takes around six months.

  3. Spend a few years as a police officer patrolling to gain experience. You work 40 hours a week, including weekends, nights, and holidays, for four to five years.

  4. Apply for promotion. It’s the last step involving sitting for a promotional exam, which, if you pass, you become a detective.

That said, it’s important to note that the requirements for becoming a detective may vary slightly from one state to another. However, basic education and professional experience are mandatory for you to qualify for a detective position.

The Salary of a Detective

As of May 2020, the average annual salary for a detective and criminal investigator was $89,300, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics .

As for private detectives, it’s hard to tell what they earn as it varies depending on the job one does and where they work.

Some factors determining salary level for public detectives include education level, work experience, and geographical location.

If you’ve worked longer on the force or have advanced criminal justice certificates or degrees, you’re likely to command a higher salary. Additionally, some states, cities, jurisdictions, and communities may pay less or more depending on prevailing factors such as population and crime rate.

Must-Have Skills for a Detective

Detectives work in very critical situations, requiring them to possess unique skills to perform their duties well.

Most of these skills are acquired through education and work experience and include:

  • Problem-solving: They need creative problem-solving skills to help solve crimes.

  • Critical thinking: Detectives need to think like their suspects but also think outside the box. Only then can they analyze evidence and come to reasonable conclusions.

  • Attention to detail: A single hair or small crack in the wall matters to a detective. It may be the last thing they need to solve a puzzle leading to an arrest.

  • Communication skills: Detectives must communicate adeptly with witnesses and suspects. It’s also vital for their interaction with prosecutors and judges.

  • Writing and computer skills: Detective work involves writing reports often when processing crime scenes. Additionally, especially for cybercrime detectives, computer skills come in handy in evaluating online evidence.

  • Ethics and emotional stability: Detectives must uphold professional ethics. They must also be emotionally prepared to face whatever comes their way. Remember, things they see at crime scenes can be disturbing, requiring a lot of emotional and mental toughness.

Is A Career As A Detective Right For You?

No doubt being a detective is a great job, and if you’re passionate about becoming one, nothing should stand in your way. You’re making your country, state, city, and community safer, something to be proud of. Enroll in a criminal justice degree program, and in a few years, you can be the new detective in town.

Did you like this how-to article? Check out a few of our other career guides below.

  • How to become a police officer
  • How to become a firefighter
  • How to become a home inspector
  • How to become a delivery driver