Becoming a Detective: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
A detective's average income is around $80,000. Is it worth the education, training and experience requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about the career outlook to find out if becoming a detective is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Detective

Detectives, also known as criminal investigators, solve crimes by acquiring evidence. Upsides and downsides to being a detective can be learned by reading below.

Pros of a Detective Career
Extensive career benefits are provided*
The salary for a detective is above the national average ($80,000 average salary in 2014)*
Retirement age is lower for detectives that other occupations*
Clear hierarchy of promotional opportunities*

Cons of a Detective Career
Overtime is normal for detectives*
Slower-than-average job growth expected (5% for police and detectives from 2012-2022)*
Detectives work around the clock, so evening, holiday and weekend hours can be assigned; shift preference is based on seniority*
Injuries can occur from high-risk situations*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

As a detective, your goal is to examine the facts of a case that is assigned to you. From those facts, you need to arrive at a conclusion to determine what happened at a crime scene. You'll interview anyone involved with the crime, such as witnesses and suspects. After taking down statements, you might keep an eye on a suspect's activities in hopes of finding out some additional information related to the crime. When an arrest has to be made, you'll assist. You'll stay on the case until it is dropped or you've solved the mystery. You'll find that detectives tend to specialize in a specific type of crime like fraud or homicide.

Salary Information and Prospects

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that detectives and criminal investigators earned an average hourly wage of $38, which resulted in average annual earnings of around $80,000 for full-time employment (www.bls.gov). Detectives in the top ten percentile earned upwards of $127,000 or so. On average, the federal executive branch paid detectives the highest, with an average salary of about $105,000 for those workers. In terms of location, the District of Columbia, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware and California had the highest average salaries for detectives and criminal investigators in 2014, according to the BLS.

Local governments hire the most detectives and criminal investigators (about 46,000 as of 2014, reported the BLS), but the federal governments is a close second in terms of number of detectives and criminal investigators employed. Most federal agencies have tougher requirements for employment

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training

A GED or a high school diploma is the minimum amount of education a detective must have. In most cases, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice is preferred. Being a detective is normally a position you're promoted to, so you'll first need to complete training at an academy and serve as a police officer. Requirements for becoming a police officer include being a U.S. citizen, holding a driver's license, meeting all physical qualifications and being 21 years old or older. Additionally, your agility, hearing and vision are tested.

If you have received a felony conviction, you may not be allowed to become a police officer or detective. Drug tests, interviews and lie detector tests are conducted throughout a law enforcement career. Placement on the promotion list for detective slots is typically based on one's performance on the job and on written exams.

What Do Employers Want in Detectives?

Employers want detectives who have the physical attributes to perform their job duties. Although you will receive physical training at the police academy, it is important to maintain your endurance and strength throughout your career. Additionally, employers want to make sure you're comfortable with interviewing people and handling uncooperative suspects. For more insights into what employers want, read about some qualifications listed in job postings in April 2012.

  • An opening in Texas calls for a detective with five years of experience and/or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice; negotiating skills and an understanding of technical equipment and computers are also needed.
  • In Florida, a department is looking for a detective who can specialize in working on cold cases. A bachelor's degree in criminal justice is preferred, and state-issued law enforcement certifications were required.
  • A criminal investigator job in a District Attorney's office in Colorado was open for a certified peace officer who could demonstrate excellent interviewing and report-writing skills.

How Do You Stand Out as a Detective?

If you take the time to learn another language you'll set yourself apart from other detectives who only know English. Many urban departments and federal agencies are looking for detectives who speak Spanish or other foreign languages. This allows you to communicate with non-native English speakers effectively, which is beneficial in an investigation. Additionally, previous military experience is helpful. If you're a military veteran, many employers recognize the useful skills you've acquired from your military career. Military training can indicate that you're comfortable around weapons and that you've developed leadership skills as well as a keen eye for details.

Other Career Choices

If you're not interested in working in law enforcement but do want to work as a detective, look into becoming a private detective. You might investigate for a specific employer or take on multiple clients. As a private detective, you'll usually investigate personal, financial and legal matters for a client. The BLS reported that private detectives earned roughly $49,000 on average in 2011. Job growth for private detectives and investigators was predicted by the BLS to be 21% from 2010 to 2020, much stronger than the 7% growth predicted for detectives and criminal investigators in law enforcement.

If you're looking for a job that protects people and property but you're interested in minimal investigative work, consider being a security guard. Security guards patrol an employer's business or residence. Special surveillance equipment is used to ensure no one is breaking into the grounds. You'll help prevent vandalism and theft for your employer. The average earnings for security guards were about $27,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS. Expected job growth of 18% for 2010-2020 is about average for all professions, but is still considerably better than the outlook for detectives.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    2. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
      • Doctor of Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
      • Master of Arts in Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MSCJ: Leadership & Executive Management
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
      • MSCJ: Corrections
      • MSCJ: Global Issues in Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
      • BS in Corrections
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
      • BSCJ: Homeland Security
      • BSCJ: Juvenile Justice
      • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
    Associate's
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
      • PhD in Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MBA - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MBA in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Public Safety Administration concentration
      • MSM in Emergency Management
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Advanced Counterterrorism & Homeland Security concentration
      • MS in Nursing: Patient Quality and Safety
    Bachelor's
      • BS Criminal Justice - Corrections
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management Criminal Justice
      • Doctorate: Management - Homeland Security
    Master's
      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
      • Master: Management - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Emergency Management and Public Health
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Security
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Trident University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master's - Emergency and Disaster Management
      • Master's - Homeland Security
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor's - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Security Guard
      • Certificate - Business Security
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

Featured Schools

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin

What is your highest level of education?

University of the Rockies

  • Doctor of Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
  • Master of Arts in Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MBA in Criminal Justice
  • BS Criminal Justice - Corrections

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Trident University

  • Master's - Emergency and Disaster Management
  • Master's - Homeland Security
  • Bachelor's - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education completed?