What Do I Need to Become a Detective?

Updated February 21, 2017

Choosing a career as a detective can lead to challenging and rewarding work. Detectives are known to work long, irregular hours and it can take years to be promoted to the position. Aspiring detectives can work their way up through the police force or become investigators for federal agencies or private companies. With the necessary education, skills, knowledge and personality, aspiring workers can successfully become detectives.


Detectives can work within law enforcement agencies or for private companies. Like police officers, much of a detective's time is spent writing reports and maintaining records of incidents that they investigate. When an incident occurs, detectives are called in to collect the evidence and analyse the facts of the crime. Detectives conduct interviews and use research and forensic technology to solve crimes, according to the Education Portal website.


At minimum, prospective detectives will need a high-school diploma. However, to advance farther in your career, it is best to pursue a four-year college degree. Detectives should study majors such as psychology, computer science or criminal justice. According to the Education Portal website, military experience is also helpful. Candidates for police work must be at least age 21 and in excellent health and physical condition.

Training and Work Environment

Aspiring detectives should apply to a police department and complete the police training academy. Afterward, officers will work a two- to three-month probationary period before they can be promoted. Promotion to a detective position is never a guarantee and can takes years of hard work.

Police work can be stressful and dangerous, and the hours can be long. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers and detectives have one of the highest rates of on-the-job injury and illness. New officers can expect to work weekends, holidays and night shifts.

Personality Characteristics

Aspiring detectives must have strong problem-solving skills. They should be intelligent, organised and enjoy working with people. According to the Education Portal website, successful detectives must have excellent interpersonal skills as they will be working with families, witnesses and criminals during interviews and investigations. Detectives should also possess strong integrity and emotional stability.

Federal Detective Work

After completing an education and gaining years of work experience at a police department, aspiring detectives can apply to be federal agents. To work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, candidates must have a college degree and at least three years of professional work experience, or they must have an advanced degree and two years of professional work experience. The candidate's college major should be in accounting, electrical engineering, information technology or computer science. They must also be fluent in a foreign language. Other options include having a law degree or three years of full-time police or detective experience. If accepted to the agency, new agents will go through 18 weeks of training at the FBI Academy.

Private Detective Work

To become a private detective, candidates should follow the same education and training path as aspiring government detectives. Most states require that private detectives become licensed. Many private detectives have previous work experience at a police department, federal agency or in the military. Private detectives investigate legal, financial and personal matters for their clients, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Detectives can specialise as computer forensic investigators, corporate investigators or financial investigators. Much of the job is spent working on the computer, conducting interviews or doing surveillance.

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About the Author

Brittany Rouse has been writing since 2004, specializing in pet care, college life and gardening. Her work is published in the George Mason University student newspaper, "Broadside," as well as the GMU online publication Connect to Mason. Rouse is working toward a Bachelor of Arts in communication.