How Can I Become a Detective? 7 Step-by-Step Guide

Growing up, I saw a lot of detective movies where intelligent mentalists would use their intuition to decipher what could have happened in a crime scene they were not around when it happened. They would say why it happened and how it happened.

And sometimes they would tell you who they think committed the crime. All of these times I watched, I would just wonder how these guys do this thing. Do you know what this did to me? I started nurturing desire on how to become a detective.

You know, contrary to what I used to think, that those kinds of people only existed in movies, the truth is that there are badass detectives around our physical space helping to track and catching the bad guys.

The detective work is as real as what you see in the movies. Yeah. So in this article, I will show you steps on how you can become a successful detective.

But I won’t have to keep this from you: becoming a detective comes with a lot of demands. Set aside the seeming glamorous portrayals we catch on the screens and let’s face the real thing. Being a detective indeed requires incredible patience because you will go through a lot of investigative rigors, it will expose you to potentially dangerous individuals and situations.

Who is A Detective?

A detective also known as a criminal investigator, and sometimes called special agents is a sworn law enforcement professional who has the job of collecting evidence and gathering facts of crimes.

Criminal investigators conduct investigations, gather intelligence and evidence, analyze information, and prepare cases for prosecution in law courts.

Detectives come in all shapes and sizes and can specialize in vastly different areas of investigation. However, one common thing binds all detectives together and that is their quest to unbind complex details and situations, join up tiny pieces of facts to reveal a more complete story and ultimately uncover the truth.

In the next few lines here, I’m going to show you the various detectives there is. There are about four types of detectives.

Types of Detectives

There are police detectives, private detectives, homicide detectives, and forensic detectives.

Police Detectives

Found in this category are primarily government law enforcement agents. The government trains and recruits them to carry out investigative activities related to criminal acts and suspected criminal activity. They are also known as public detectives because their salaries come from taxes and government funding.

Below are some activities of the police detective;

  • Investigating crimes
  • Collecting evidence of crimes
  • Conducting interviews with witnesses and suspects
  • Observing the suspects activities
  • Arresting suspects
  • Writing detailed reports and filling out the necessary forms
  • Preparing cases and testifying in courts

Unlike regular police officers, police detectives wear plain clothes instead of police uniforms and drive unmarked vehicles.

They may work undercover or through an informant; sometimes, observing, monitoring, and recording the activities of known criminals is enough to gather the necessary evidence for an indictment.

However, most substantial evidence is obtained through interrogating both criminals and witnesses. Before making any arrests, police detectives must ensure that the collective evidence is accurate, true, and reliable. The best evidence in any crime is a direct confession, and police detectives have the right to use psychological techniques, misdirection, and lies to encourage a criminal to confess.

Private Detectives

Private detectives are specially trained intelligent professionals who have undergone several pieces of training on analyzing several pieces of information about crimes and criminals and devise means and strategies of arresting and curbing their activities.

They are usually not members of the armed forces. They are neither police nor army. They are private security consultants hired by the government and private agencies to uncover malicious acts and crimes either in society or the organization.

Naturally, each time the word ‘detective’ is used, it is usually regarding private detectives investigators. These guys are just so good at finding anything at all. They use a variety of investigative methods to find anything they want.

And, they always give answers to any kind of question. Logic skills and an understanding of alternative solutions are some of the competencies required to be a successful detective. Furthermore, critical thinking and solving puzzles is an important part of the job, regardless of the application.

Part of what private detectives do is;

  • Tracking cybercriminals
  • Finding Missing Persons
  • Recovery of Lost/Stolen Property
  • Tracking and arresting serial killers
  • Investigative Due Diligence etc.

It is interesting to note that some private detectives were former police officers, spies, military personnel, bodyguards, and security guards who decided to take their career to another level. While on special assignments, private detectives receive immunity from the government.

This is because many private detectives are limited to the power of arresting or detaining culprits because they do not have police authority. This is especially if they are not members of the force.

Homicide Detectives

Homicide detectives are most times engaged in death-end tasks. Usually, when there is a case of murder and the culprit is not known and there is evidently no clear lead on who the perpetrator might be, it is the job of the homicide detective to devise means and strategies of finding who could have committed the act.

Homicide detectives are almost inseparable members of the law enforcement profession. When not actively at the scene of a crime, homicide detectives review case files to look for clues or leads on cracking a hard puzzle. Homicide detectives are also extremely good at solving cold cases. Cold cases are tough mysterious, age-long cases that have gone cold and have been given up on.

Forensic Detectives

Part of what the Forensic Detective does is to use scientific methods and their scientific knowledge to investigate and analyze physical evidence from a crime scene. They help solve crimes by determining how and when a crime occurred and who perpetrated it by analyzing relevant samples and running scientific tests.

They collect evidence from the crime scene such as fingerprints, bodily fluids, and weapons, as well as write notes on their observations, take photographs, make sketches, and bag samples to take to the lab for later analysis.

They write detailed reports and use solid scientific evidence in order to prove what occurred and often have to testify in court. Their evidence has to stand up to extreme scrutiny, especially in court.

When examining physical evidence, conducting evidence, interpreting data, and writing detailed reports, a criminal detective can testify with sincerity in court and can often prove the existence of a crime or a connection to a crime.

As its sole purpose is to produce evidence-based data solely on scientific facts, the testimony of forensic detectives has become a reliable part of many criminal cases. This profession requires constant learning to keep up with the progress of forensic technology.

What does A Detective do?

The job description of detectives differs depending on the area of each person’s specialization. But as a matter of fact, regardless of each person’s area of specialization, detectives have one job which is majorly to uncover hidden sensitive truths, to detect threats to lives and properties and to secure lives and properties.

In general, listed below are some of what detectives do;

  • Tracking cybercriminals
  • Finding Missing Persons
  • Recovery of Lost/Stolen Property
  • Tracking and arresting serial killers
  • Investigative Due Diligence
  • Investigating crimes
  • Collecting evidence of crimes
  • Conducting interviews with witnesses and suspects
  • Observing the suspects activities
  • Arresting suspects
  • Writing detailed reports and filling out the necessary forms
  • Preparing cases and testifying in courts
  • Insurance Claim Fraud
  • Finding an unknown parent
  • Attend autopsies to gather additional evidence
  • Act as victim advocates in the search for justice
  • Request assistance and exchange information from other law enforcement agencies
  • Take notes and prepare diagrams at crime scenes
  • Take photographs at crime scenes
  • Travel throughout their own and different jurisdictions
  • Follow potentially dead-end leads
  • Assisting in the successful prosecution of offenders
  • Running of scientific tests

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What is the Difference Between a Police Officer and a Police Detective?

Though this may often be used interchangeably, the two are not just the same. A police detective is obviously a police officer because he was first trained to become an officer before the detective training.

What this means is that not all police officers are detectives but unarguably, all police detectives are police officers. This is because detectives go through normal police training and additional detectives’ training.

Usually, in the right work order, police officers lay a background foundation for the detective to do his work. Just imagine a situation where there was a murder case: a man was shot by an unknown gunman in a certain location, everyone around the location flees the scene of the crime.

Shortly after, the police arrive at the crime scene, secure the arena, take photographs and asks a few questions. After these processes, it is now the duty and job of the detectives to use possible leads to track who the culprit might be. They will keep following until the culprit has been uncovered. Their job goes beyond that of a police officer and therefore requires extra investigative skills.

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Must I Go to School to Become A Detective?

If you have at any time asked this question, the answer to it is, Yes! Though you may not really need a very formal education at first, you would still need some level of education to start anyway.

Usually, detectives begin their careers working as police officers. It is from this level they begin to build the foundational knowledge they need for a successful career.

Interestingly, Some police intelligence departments may not really require you to undergo any formal education beyond the normal high school or secondary education or a General Education Development certificate before you can work as a detective. While this may be true, some other departments may still require you to complete some level of post-secondary degrees, such as acquiring an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

But in an actual sense, it is imperative to take these post-secondary classes because they will help to sharpen you and equip for a successful career in crime detection. Often times Bureaus of investigations would want their candidates to have gone through all or any of these:

  • Forensic psychology
  • Justice administration
  • Criminology
  • Sociology
  • Criminal justice

I would advise that if anyone wants to pursue a career in crime detection, they should try to get a post-secondary degree. It fastens their promotion in their work. Even many intelligence departments that do not really require a formal college degree as part of becoming a detective attach some kind of awards and incentives to your salary when you have additional training.

Prospective detectives undergo some tests that assess how sound they are to do the work. The tests check their mental capacity, physical abilities, ability to read and write, ability to handle logical and critical situations, and communication skills.

Below are some tests you may have to undergo before becoming a detective.

  • Psychological evaluation
  • Academy training
  • Field training
  • Background investigation
  • Polygraph examination
  • Medical examination
  • Structured panel interview etc

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Basic Requirements for Becoming A Detective

Usually, detectives begin their careers working as police officers. It is from this level they build the foundational knowledge they need for a successful career until they are promoted to the position of detective.

To become a detective, individuals must first ensure they meet the minimum requirements for employment. Most police departments would require individuals to be at least 21 years old; to possess a valid and current driver’s license, and to be a United States citizen.

When working as a police officer and you aim to advance your career and become a detective, pursue further education in criminal justice or criminal investigation. This will increase your chances of promotion within your department.

Just like I have done earlier, the best advice I would offer you is to pursue a higher degree. Almost all detectives have at the minimum, an associate’s degree in criminal justice, while the majority of individuals working in this field have a bachelor’s degree in this area or a related field.

Below are some of the basic requirements if you wish to pursue a career in crime detection.

  • Must be a United States citizen
  • Must be at least 21 years of age
  • Must possess a valid and current driver’s license
  • Must have a minimum of an Associate’s degree
  • Must pay attention to details
  • Must be able to evaluate the relevance of concepts, theories, and principles to develop different approaches or tactical plans (critical thinking and problem-solving skill)
  • Must learn to employ independent judgment
  • Must learn to be resourceful
  • Must have the ability to Interpret and apply guidelines
  • Must have the ability to apply sound judgment and make effective decisions
  • Must have the ability to act with integrity
  • Must have the ability to work independently or as part of a team
  • Must have the ability to Organize and analyze evidence to draw conclusions from it
  • Must possess strong oral and communication skills
  • Must have knowledge of computer and technology skills

Which Schools Offer Training for Aspiring Detectives?

If you are looking for schools where you can pursue programs that ushers you into a career in crime detection, then I will show. The list below shows some of the best schools that offer programs that lead to careers in crime detection. Some of these schools offer associate’s degree programs, bachelor’s degree programs, masters and doctoral programs in criminal justice and other related courses.

List of Detective Schools

Follow the links to the official schools’ websites to learn more about their programs.

Is It Really Safe to be A Detective?

Generally, I would say a yes to this question. But it is also important to understand that some of the things we see in the movies are quite misleading. While detectives’ work might be dangerous, it is not as ugly as painted in the movies.

Firstly, a detective’s work is less dangerous especially if they are private investigators. Most times they move in undercover uniforms and are hardly noticed. But a uniformed police officer responds to crimes in progress which can be very dangerous.

Secondly, uniformed police officers conduct the vast majority of car stops, which again can be very dangerous. Uniform police are the public face of the department and at times have come under gunfire for no other reason than the uniform they wear.

The only dangerous part of the detective’s work is the part where they will have to locate and arrest violent and dangerous criminals.

So on average, it is safer to be a detective than it is to be a police officer.

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How Fast Can You Become a Detective?

You can become a detective once you complete your program and on the job training. Approximately, it takes a year to complete an advanced diploma to become a detective.

Afterward, new recruits are to perform general duties for three years before deciding what area to focus on.

According to Anna Grant, you can become a detective once you complete an advanced diploma and on-the-job training.

How Much Can I Earn as A Detective?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of detectives ranges between $35,710 and $66,300 a year.

Moreso, it has been currently estimated that there are 110,900 detectives in the United States which are further expected to grow by 4.5% before 2026. So this indicates that there are still needs for more detectives.

Can You Become a Detective Right Out of College?

You don’t necessarily need a college degree to become a detective although a bachelor’s degree can help you advance through the ranks more easily.

So, if you have completed your advanced degree before college, you can become a detective right out of college.

Steps to Becoming A Detective

I’m sure you would not find any other procedure that best describes how to become a detective than what you will read in the next few lines. In this section, you would find precise steps that will guide you in having a successful career in crime detection.

Step 1: Complete your secondary education

For you to become a special agent, you must complete your secondary education and also complete a post-secondary program. It could be an associate’s program, a bachelor’s degree program. Quickly see the next step.

Step 2: Take a Post-secondary education

It is in your post-secondary education that you will acquire some skills you would really require for a successful practice. So it would be very important to not just stop at completing your secondary education but also enrolling in an advanced degree program. In your post-secondary program, you may decide to take an associate’s degree program or a bachelor’s degree.

The truth is that you will always find programs to do even to doctoral levels. It is also important that you take a foreign language course. As a detective, you would definitely meet people from different tribes and races and you may need to speak their language.
Courses that lead to a career in crime detection that you may take include Criminal justice, crime investigation, criminology, forensic psychology, human relations, criminal law, etc.

Step 3: Enroll in a Police Academy for Training

It is very important that you also enroll in a police training academy where expert officers will duly train you on issues of security concerns. Here you will also get a hands-on-training of some of the basic physical skills of defense you would need to escape troubles when on duty.

They include a mixture of physical training and classroom study in areas such as firearm training, self-defense, traffic control, and first aid. It is also important that you get a clear understanding of state and local law.

Step 4: Work out to develop Physical and Fitness

In your work as a detective, you may get into situations where you will really need to exert a lot of physical strength probably in self-defense or in the hot pursuit of a dangerous criminal. So you would need to build yourself to gain stamina and strength. You may also need to climb heights, crawl through tunnels. All of these may require strength.

Step 5: Add more skills to your skills set

Adding more skills to your skills set will definitely make outstanding in your work. This is because you will know how to profer solutions to any kind of challenge that may arise. It is important you learn how to drive. It is important to learn how to administer simple first aid. Getting advanced computer and technology skills will surely make you the go-to guy in your field.

Step 6. Get professional certifications

So long as it’s within your reach, always try to improve yourself in your chosen. Attend trainings meant to boost your experience and get certified.

Step 7: Meet up with other experts to build experience

Get in touch with people especially the ones doing well in the field and learn what they are doing. Unarguably, detectives with more experience and training will likely have better professional prospects.


The process of solving cases is not always easy. It can take months or even years, which much of it will be spent surfing through papers and documents, photographs, files, etc. But you know one interesting thing about the detectives work.

Irrespective of the rigors and challenges associated with it, it is a rewarding profession. Being able to provide answers to victims’ questions, solving crimes, catching and prosecuting the culprits comes with a lot of relief and deep personal satisfaction. And, this article provides full details on how to become a detective.



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