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What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Detective?

Updated February 21, 2017

Detectives are members of law enforcement agencies and are civil service employees. Their primary responsibilities are to collect evidence that relates to criminal cases through processes of interviewing, observation, and investigation. Though most of the experience that detectives gain comes from on-the-job training and experience, there are several basic qualifications, including education, successful testing, and physical aptitude, that you need to become a detective.

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General Qualifications

All candidates for police and detective jobs in the United States must be at least 21 years old, U.S citizens, and be able to meet rigorous physical and personal demands.


The basic education requirement is a high school diploma, though most detectives have a college degree or higher. Some law enforcement departments require detectives to have at least two years of collective experience, with relevant coursework in such fields as criminal justice or law.

Foreign Language

Knowledge of a foreign language, while not a requirement, is a qualification that may help secure a job as a detective in large and diverse urban populations where language skills would be considered an asset to investigation.

Physical Qualifications

All civil service candidates for law enforcement jobs must pass a rigorous physical examination. The examination includes tests in strength, agility, vision and hearing.


A high score on the detective’s written examination will help candidates in the competitive job market. A high test score or proven history of intelligence and aptitude for problem solving may help a candidate secure a job in a more desirable department.

Personality and Personal Qualifications

A significant qualification for working as a detective is that you need to enjoy working with others and speaking to members of the public. Departments look for traits such as good judgment, responsibility, honesty and integrity when hiring detectives. Candidates may have to undergo extensive background checks, personality tests and interviews with psychologists.

Specific Departments

Before applying for a job as a detective, ask the department to which you want to apply about the specific qualifications they are seeking. While one agency may only require a high school diploma and work experience to become a detective, another agency may require a college degree, specific test scores and a specified amount of experience for the job.

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About the Author

Jessica Jewell is a writer, photographer and communications consultant who began writing professionally in 2005. Her chapbook, "Slap Leather," is forthcoming from dancing girl press. Her recent work has appeared in "Nimrod," "Harpur Palate," "Copper Nickel," "Rhino," "wicked alice," "Poetry Midwest" and "Barn Owl Review." Jewell was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She earned her Master of Fine Arts from Kent State University.

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