Becoming a Missing Persons Investigator: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a missing persons investigator career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a missing persons investigator is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career in Missing Persons Investigation

Missing persons investigators can be either police detectives or private investigators who work alone or as part of a unit to locate missing people. Learn more about the pros and of a career in missing persons investigations to make an informed decision about your future.

Pros of a Missing Persons Investigator Career
Average growth predicted for private investigators (11% from 2012-2022)*
Minimal educational requirements (high school diploma to bachelor's degree)*
Opportunity to work in a variety of locations (in the office, performing field investigations, etc.)
Private investigators are often self-employed*

Cons of a Missing Persons Investigator Career
Requires extensive training*
Must keep up with new state and federal laws and regulations*
The job can be stressful and dangerous (police detectives have a high injury rate)*
Often work irregular hours, including nights, weekends and holidays

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. Department of Labor O*NET OnLine.

Career Information

Job Description

Police detectives may work on cases involving missing persons, or they might be part of a missing persons unit. For example, some police departments have a missing persons unit directly responsible for finding missing adults, kidnapped children and runaways. When performing an investigation, detectives may write missing persons reports, interview relevant parties to obtain statements, search locations for evidence, check public records databases and use other investigative techniques to attempt to locate a person. Since there are often no regional or state boundaries in these types of cases, police detectives may collaborate with other agencies when conducting searches.

Private investigators may continue to investigate cases where the police have failed to find a missing person or when the missing person does not wish to be found. In the latter case, the police might find the person but they wouldn't be legally obliged to divulge their whereabouts, and the family would need to hire a private investigator. Similar to police detectives, investigators use a variety of techniques to locate missing persons, such as searching public records, interviewing relevant parties and surveying particular locations. Private investors may be called on to seek out an occasional missing person, or they can specialize in missing persons cases.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that demand for police and detectives would increase about five percent from 2012-2022, which is slower than the average job growth for all occupations. This slow growth is largely attributed to budget cuts to police funding. However, jobs for private detectives and investigators were projected to increase 11% over the 2012-2022 decade. Although increased demands for security are causing average growth, high competition is still anticipated for jobs because many qualified people are attracted to this field.

Salary Info

The BLS reports that, as of 2014, police and sheriff's patrol officers earned a median annual salary of about $57,000. The bottom 10% of officers made around $33,000 or less and the top 10% made roughly $92,000 or more. The 2014 annual median salary for private detectives and investigators was approximately $45,000, according to the BLS. The bottom 10% of private investigators made about $27,000 or less and the top 10% made around $86,000 or more.

What Are the Requirements?

Many police agencies require that applicants hold a degree or possess college credits, and some investigation agencies require an associate's or bachelor's degree. Additionally, individuals who are interested in performing investigations for a federal agency, such as the FBI, must possess a bachelor's degree and experience or a combination of the two. Both jobs also require that newly hired individuals complete extensive on-the-job training. For those in the police force, this typically means attending a police academy to study laws, ethics and procedures, as well as obtain supervised experience performing common duties. Private investigators and detectives usually complete training administered by the agency that hired them.

Most states require private detectives to hold a professional license, and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Police detectives don't have licensure requirements, but they do need to meet the qualifications to become police officers. These typically include passing physical and psychological evaluations, completing a series of interviews, passing written and oral examinations, taking drug and lie detector tests and meeting citizenship and age requirements. Missing persons detectives often start as police officers before being promoted to detectives.

Useful Skills

The U.S. Department of Labor's online career database (O*Net) lists several personal qualities that are desirable for both police detectives and private investigators. The list includes qualities such as integrity, attention to detail, keen observational skills, stress tolerance and self-control. Additionally, analytical reasoning skills, problem solving abilities and a strong understanding of people's reactions are often required to deduce a missing individuals whereabouts from existing evidence. Cultivation of these qualities can help you stand out as a missing persons investigator.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Since police detectives generally work as police officers before being promoted, aspiring detectives may need to have a track record of successfully performing investigations. Some may obtain jobs as police investigators before becoming detectives. In some departments, officers may be able to request investigative duties to obtain experience and demonstrate their abilities.

According to the BLS, private detectives and investigators often start their own businesses after obtaining experience with an agency. Thus, taking courses in accounting, business and entrepreneurship could increase your chances of running a successful enterprise.

Get Certified

Private investigators can earn optional certification from professional organizations, which may increase their advancement opportunities. For example, investigators who work in criminal defense or negligence investigations can earn the Certified Legal Investigator certification through the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI). This certificate demonstrates competence in obtaining evidence used in court cases, such as locating missing persons.

Other Fields to Consider

If you're interested in protecting and saving people but aren't interested in performing investigations, consider becoming a security guard or a firefighter.

Security Guard

Security guards use observational skills to protect people and property from damage, theft and illegal activity. Qualifications include a high school diploma or its equivalent, and most states have licensing requirements. The BLS projected jobs for security guards would increase 19% during the 2010-2020 decade, which is about as fast as average. As of 2011, security guards earned a median annual salary of around $24,000.

Firefighter

Firefighters put out structure and wild fires, and they attempt to rescue people and animals from fires. They also respond to other emergencies, including urgent medical situations and natural disasters. Firefighters are required to hold at least a high school diploma and most possess emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. They must also pass physical examinations and complete extensive training. The BLS predicted jobs for firefighters would grow nine percent between 2010 and 2020, which is slower than average. Firefighters earned a median annual salary of roughly $45,000, as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
    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
    2. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Law Enforcement Academy (Police) - Bachelor
      • Criminal Justice - Bachelor
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
      • B.A. - Homeland Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Utica College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
      • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
      • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Financial Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Fraud Prevention and Detection
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. 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
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    8. 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
    9. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor - 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
      • BS - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Security
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Baker College Online

  • Law Enforcement Academy (Police) - Bachelor
  • Criminal Justice - Bachelor

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

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

What is your highest level of education?

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?