Private investigators carry out undercover investigations for their clients, including solicitors, insurance companies, councils, private companies and individuals. Your investigations could include family issues like divorce or adoption, to business support regarding internal espionage or theft. Your work may also include surveillance, fraud investigation (for example, insurance claims), tracing missing persons, investigating commercial piracy, vetting personnel etc. You would typically work alone as a self-employed investigator.
What do they do?
What’s common between Sherlock Holmes, Karamchand Jasoos, and Byomkesh Bakshi? These are the fictional characters that have over the years endeared themselves to their fans with their brilliant detective work. In the course of their adventures they have also managed to inspire many youngsters to take up detective work to experience a life of excitement and adventure.
Over the years, things have changed for real-life detectives who have moved from wielding the magnifying glass to relying on sophisticated spying devices.
The profession pays well if one has the talent to solve cases with élan. Here’s an example.
Circa 1958: A young boy came from Pakistan as a refugee, started doing detective work after trying his hand “at almost 22 other professions (including that of a rag picker)”. Meet Ramesh C Madan, who is known as the father of private investigation in India. He started out in an era when detectives had to learn from “the institution of circumstances”, as Madan calls it. Since then, he says, a lot has changed but the basics of detective work remain the same. “As long as human beings are insecure about one thing or the other, detectives will never go out of business,” says Madan.
When he started out, no one “knew about private detectives. Once I went to give an advertisement about my services to a well-known newspaper and they refused to take my ad and then suggested that I should put the ad in the ‘tantrik’ (practitioner of black magic) section. Then in the ‘70s, I met the director general of police, Uttar Pradesh for a case and was surprised when he asked me what a private detective did. Awareness levels have changed much since those days,” says Madan.
Persistence and hard work culminated in Madan getting a lifetime achievement award for investigation and intelligence last year from President Pratibha Patil. “I have got many awards. I believe that if you work with honesty and support the truth then recognitions will come to you,” says Madan.
From the hardships of procuring hi-tech spying gadgets to facing threats from miffed people, being a detective some years back was a challenging proposition.
It is still challenging even with the availability of advanced technology, investigative work has simplified to some extent.
Circa 1988: The job profile hasn’t changed but detectives have started to adding credibility by earning degrees that will help them in their work. VC Misra, after practicing law for some time, found that was not his calling and got a degree in forensic science from the Delhi University. His specialisation in handwriting and fingerprint identification made his job easier. “Now even lawyers take our help to get to the facts,” says Misra. “Opportunities for work have increased in this area, and investigators are taking on work previously done by the police. However, competition has increased manifold. To get work, you should have good contacts, be in touch with the lawyers, and also have a website to showcase your work,” says Misra.
Circa 2010: Degrees (law, forensics etc.) coupled with the knowledge of advanced technology is now intrinsic to a detective’s life. Rishi Madan is a young 19-year-old armed with knowledge of the latest technology and an ambition to become one of “the best detectives”.
“You have to have an inquisitive mind to be a good detective. It is important to gain knowledge of each and every thing about investigative work, be it law, psychology, sociology, topography, weapons, chemistry, geology, philosophy, anatomy, etc. Though you might not be the master of all these subjects, their knowledge will help you to look at cases from a different perspective,” says Rishi.
The job is tough because sometimes you have to spend days following a person. “You have to change your appearance and your vehicle etc., to make sure that your quarry does not get suspicious. The cases differ because anyone who can pay the fees uses the services of a detective. As crime and insecurity increase, opportunities for people in this profession are also increasing,” says Rishi. “You could find work as an employee of an investigation agency or buy a franchise, which may combine the advantage of working alone with the benefits and contacts associated with being part of a large organisation. Alternatively, you could set up on your own (agency). Your success will not only depend on your investigative skills, knowledge and experience, but also on your ability to market your services,” says Madan.
Whatever the era, the profession retains its charm and the ones who yearn for an adventurous life should join it with the aim of going whole hog for the truth. As Madan sums it up, one should be ready for anything from gaalis to golis (abuses to bullets).
. Good verbal and written communication skills
. Excellent observation skills
. Strong analytical skills
. Self-confidence to present evidence in court
. Basic computer skills
. Knowledge of the law
. Honesty and integrity
. Ability to work independently
. Logical approach to your work
. Patience and perseverance
. Empathy for clients who may be distressed by your findings
How do I get there?
. You may not need any qualifications to become a trainee investigator. A paid traineeship (with a company or independent private eye) will be difficult to come by if you do not have relevant skills and knowledge. You can set up on your own detective agency, but attracting clients and providing good service requires appropriate skills.
. It would be useful to have a good standard of education plus some experience in field work (such as the marketing/sales etc.). Business skills are also important because most opportunities involve working on a self-employed basis.
. You could contact local private investigators directly to find out about opportunities shadowing professionals and learning through that. You could also check for vacancies. A list of potential employers can be found on the websites of the Association of Private Detectives and Investigators, Council of International Investigators and World Association of Detectives on their websites. A driving licence is essential for this work.
Typical day in the life of a Private Investigator
Pros & Cons about this career
A life full of adventure Get to spy on the rich and famous and learn about their real lives Everyday will have something new for you
Sometimes it can be life-threatening You could end up with minimal social life Trust in others takes a hit