Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

Being a detective is one of the possible paths of career growth for aspiring law enforcement officers. Most of us have a rough idea of what the job of the detective includes based on movies and books and while the reality is a bit different, the career is still quite interesting and challenging. Before you start browsing the job openings for a police detective, there are a few things you need to know about the job.

how to become a detective and find a job

Below you will find guidelines on how to become a detective, what are the main requirements and qualities that you need to have, what are the different career paths and salary of a police detective.

How to become a detective

In order to become a detective, you need to be a police officer first. The position of the detective is a promotional one, which means that you need to be very good at your job as a police officer in order to be proposed for the promotion.

In other words, if you dream about becoming a detective, you should prepare yourself very well for the position of a police officer. The hiring process is very complex and there are several tests that you need to pass – written, physical agility test, psychological test, polygraph, background check, medical exam. In order to prepare for most of them you can choose a good online course, such as PoliceExam911.

Once you are hired, you need to do your job in the best possible way so that you can have a chance of being promoted to a detective. It is good to let your superiors know that you are interested in the position and then work towards it.

There are some requirements that you need to meet in order to become a detective:

  • Education – the minimum requirement for becoming a detective is to have a high school diploma, however most of the agencies require a higher educational level. A college degree in criminology or criminal justice is a great asset, as well as a degree in political science, psychology, sociology or forensic science. Having a bachelor’s degree is an advantage and can even be a requirement for some of the more demanding agencies.
  • Age – With most departments, there isn’t a specific minimum age requirement to become a detective. This is because being a police officer comes before being a detective and there will be a minimum age to become an officer. In most cases the requirement is 21 years but there will be differences depending upon the department.
  • Length of service – some agencies require that you have worked as a police officer a certain period of time prior to becoming a detective. The period can differ for the different agencies.

It is important to note that you will still need to pass some checks and tests before you become a detective. Your physical fitness will be checked – you will have to pass through agility, strength, hearing and vision tests. You may also be required to take the polygraph test and a further background check may be run on you. In most of the cases you will also be interviewed for the position and in some agencies you will need to take a test to compete for the position of detective.. A valid driver’s license is also required for the position of a detective.

Important qualities for a detective

Only the best police officers are promoted to detectives. In order to be one of the chosen, you need to have certain qualities. Here are a few of the most important ones:

  • Good writing skills
  • Patience
  • Ability to multi-task
  • Being perceptive
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Strong attention to detail

The job of the detective often includes working odd hours and visiting unpleasant crime scenes. Usually, a detective works on more than one case and hence the ability to multi-task and prioritize is quite important. Besides, detectives work with lots of different people – from other law enforcement officers to suspects and victims and therefore they need to know how to deal with people who are in different situations.

There are also certain skills that can help you stand out. They can be developed and perfected during your years as a police officer and make you the ideal candidate for the position of a detective. Some of the most distinctive ones are:

  • Great writing skills – while it is a requirement to have good writing skills, the ability to write well-structured and detailed crime reports is of great importance for the position of a detective;
  • Excellent investigating skills – as a police officer you will be able to develop and polish these skills. If your superiors notice that you are good at investigating issues, your chances of being promoted to a detective are much higher;
  • Tech-savvy – if you are good with new technologies and science, you are in a better position to solve crimes. Your skills will be much appreciated.
  • Good physical shape – in order to do the job of a detective, you need to be agile and physically fit. The job of the police officer gives you the opportunity to stay in shape.

Your overall good performance as a police officer and eagerness to learn and develop new skills are a sign that you will become a good detective.

What does a detective do?

In order to find out if the job of the detective is the right for you, you need to know what a detective does. The main responsibility of detectives is to investigate crimes, they also search for and apprehend criminals. So far, as a police officer your functions were mainly to patrol the streets and look for suspicious actions or people in order to prevent a crime from happening, and also to respond to call for service. As a detective you will have to deal with crimes that were already committed. Some of the functions related to the job include:

  • Investigating crime scenes
  • Collecting evidence
  • Keeping record
  • Writing reports
  • Interrogating suspects
  • Interviewing witnesses and victims
  • Preparing arrest warrants
  • Arresting criminals
  • Conducting raids
  • Participating in surveillance
  • Testifying in court
  • Preparing and executing search warrants

The detective should be able to work both alone and in a team. In their job they have to work closely with other professionals such as coroners and forensic analysts. Quite often the detectives are also the liaison between their department and other departments or even other agencies as the FBI.

The primary task of the detective is to solve crimes. In order to do that, they gather facts so that they can find out what really happened. Detectives work on different cases – murders, burglaries, cold cases, cybercrimes and others. Sometimes their work is compared to solving a puzzle – they need to find all the pieces and match them properly in order to see the entire picture and solve the crime.

Detectives can wear uniforms or be in plain clothes. Quite often they work Monday to Friday unlike police officers who rotate. However, since crime happens all the time detectives are subject to being on-call. They need to visit a crime scene at odd hours. Once there, the detective may have to work long hours in order to collect all the evidence while still fresh. Therefore, you need to be very flexible with your working time and also willing to travel if the job requires it.

As the detectives need to work closely with witnesses and with the families of the victims, they need excellent communication skills. Detectives should be compassionate and ready to answer questions as well, not only ask them.

Detectives may work and specialize in specific that include:

  • Homicide
  • Property crimes
  • White collar crimes
  • Sex crimes
  • Crimes against persons
  • Cybercrimes

The division in which a detective will work depends on their skills, knowledge, and education as well as on the needs of the specific department. It is possible for a detective to change their specialization and move to work from one type of crimes into another.

Career growth and salary

According to the data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistic there are 105,350 people working as detectives and criminal investigators as of May 2017, while there are 807,000 employed as police and detectives. The overall job outlook for the industry is a growth of 7% for the period from 2016 to 2026. This is as fast as the average growth for the country.

The median hourly wage for the profession is $38.45 while the median annual wage stands at $79,970.

There is a difference in the demand for detectives and their pay in the different states and in the different levels of government such as local, state, and federal.

  • As it can be expected the highest levels of employment are at local government where the number of people employed is 42,820 and the annual wage stands at $71,340.
  • The second largest employer is the federal executive branch that employs 40,570 people and pays an averagely $106,040 per year.
  • The third place is for the state government. It gives work to 21,020 people and pays $64,010 annually.

There is also a significant difference in the employment and payment rates if reviewed by state. The highest employment level is in Texas with 16,780 people working in the sphere, followed by California with 11,700. The third place is occupied by New York with 9,290, forth is for Florida with 6,240 and fifth is for Arizona with 5,910.

When it comes to pay, however, the states that occupy the first five places are quite different. The highest paying state is Alaska, which has an hourly mean wage of $55,83 and annual wage of $116,130. The second state is California with hourly wage of $49,91 and annual payment of $103,810. The third state in this ranking is New Jersey with hourly wage of $48,55 and annual salary of $100,980. Then comes Maryland with hourly wage of $48,02 and annual payment of $99,880 and the fifth place is for Virginia with hourly wage of $45.58 and annual wage of $94,800.

As you can see there are significant differences between the employing agencies and the states. Therefore, you should choose carefully your professional domicile if you have that opportunity.

Can you be a detective?

The most important question that you need to answer for yourself is whether you can work as a police detective or not. You may meet all the requirements and possess most of the important qualities for a detective but yet still wonder if this is the right direction for your career. There are several quizzes that can help you decide or at least have some fun while solving them.

Owlguru offers a one-minute test to check if you should become a detective or not. You need to answer 10 simple questions related to the type of work a detective does with dislike, ok or like. The questions will make you think a bit more about the responsibilities of the job and give you an idea of what you will be doing.

If you want to have some fun and test yourself to see if you know how to interrogate a suspect or whether you are familiar with some terms related to the job, then the quizzes of playbuzz and offbeat are a good try.

Keep in mind that these quizzes are not a real test of your abilities and knowledge and they do not determine whether you can become a detective or how good you will be. This is done through the interviews that you will have to pass. You need to prove your qualities with every case that you work on. Nevertheless, such quizzes can give anyone who wants to be a detective a rough idea of the duties and the terminology used by those experts.

If you have what it takes, you should apply for the position of the detective and continue your growth in the sphere of law enforcement. Once you become a detective, you will be faced with greater responsibilities and challenges, but also with great satisfaction once a case is closed. You will have the opportunity to specialize in a given sphere and become an expert is solving cold cases, homicides, or fighting cybercrime.