Want to Be a Real-Life Nancy Drew? 3 Steps to Becoming a Detective Today

Detectives at Work


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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger

Considering a career as a detective and wondering, how hard is it to become a detective? Look no further. A career as a detective can be an exciting one that'll earn you great pay if you understand the path to get there. Here's everything you need to know about detectives, how to get a job as a detective and what you can expect while working as a detective.

1. Learn what a detective does.

What is a detective, after all? A detective is responsible for investigating different crimes (burglaries, assaults, homicides, home invasions, property crimes, theft, etc.). They collect evidence surrounding the crime, interview witnesses of the crime and testify in court.

Their job responsibilities include but are not limited to: investigating criminal acts; collecting forensic evidence to solve the crime; interviewing informants, witnesses and suspects to ascertain alibis and clues; keeping detailed records of their reports; bagging evidence; sending specimens to laboratories; running fingerprints through databases; filing paperwork; following up on leads; attending autopsies; preparing sketches and diagrams; testifying in court; obtaining search warrants; analyzing laboratory finds; performing surveillance; monitoring suspects; exchanging information with other departments and more.

Detectives generally work in a whole host of different environments. Generally, detectives call police offices their home bases. That said, they spend the bulk of their time on crime scenes, in courtrooms and all over trying to collect evidence and monitor suspects.

You might be wondering, do detectives get paid well? The median average salary for detectives is $63,380 per year or $30.47 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, your benefits as a detective will depend on your employer. Some employers will offer benefits like paid time off, paid sick leave and paid parental leave, for example. It's important to ask questions about what benefits would be available to you if you were to take a job as a detective.
The salary for a detective is high because detective work a tough job.
Detectives work long hours, and many of them work late nights and on weekends, as well.
Detectives usually work on a full-time basis and are likely to work overtime hours, as well. Their shifts may be during the week or the weekends — especially for those without seniority. 
"Police and detective work can be physically demanding, stressful and dangerous," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Police and sheriff's patrol officers and transit and railroad police have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Working around the clock in shifts is common."

2. Get training and experience.

What experience do you need to be a detective?  For one: Education.
All detectives will have a high school diploma, which is required. Not all detectives will have bachelor's degree, though one may be required.
"Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college degree," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications."
After earning a high school diploma and/or a college degree, detectives will have to go through training and may also have to pass drug and polygraph tests. Training academy programs vary across the country, but usually require both a written and physical test upon completion. You can find these training programs that offer both classroom study and physical training through individual police departments, as well as through state and federal agencies.
After completing training, most detectives start off as police officers. They usually express an interest to senior officers, as many are required to serve as police officers for about at least three years before becoming eligible for detective positions. Promotion to a detective position is then based on their performance over the years.
Throughout their preparation, prospective detectives should be focusing on their own personal development, as well. There are certain skills they'll want to hone in on throughout their careers.
"Detectives should maintain excellent physical and mental health," according to Study. "They can do this by engaging in regular exercise and fitness training, which better equips them for handling danger and stress. Detectives can keep a sharp mind by brushing up on new techniques and technology. For example, studying computer forensics can be extremely useful because of the increase in cybercrime. Detectives must be very perceptive and observant to do their jobs. The ability to pay keen attention to detail is a very important quality for a detective. Individuals should cultivate these skills while on the job, paying close attention to crime scenes and accidents and learning how to capture details in reports."

3. Apply for a job that suits your needs.

How hard is it to become a detective? The job outlook for detectives is good. For 2018 to 2018, the job outlook stands at 5%, which is about as fast as average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The continued need for public safety is expected to lead to new openings for officers, although demand may vary by location," the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
To look for jobs as a detective, you can apply for jobs through your local police force, as well as through state and federal agencies. That said, it's wise to go through your police force or agency by starting out in other law enforcement work first. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police detectives generally gain investigative experience first through their work in law enforcement. They then later become detectives through promotion through their agencies.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.