How To Become a Detective

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: January 4, 2023  •  8 min read  •  Criminal Justice
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It sounds exciting to learn how to become a detective. You’ve grown up watching detectives on TV and in movies. It’s always been a dream of yours, so how do you make it a reality?

Becoming a detective might not be as exciting as the detectives you see in the movies and on TV. However, for the right person, it can still be a very fulfilling career.

Before you head down this career path, however, you should understand the job duties. Let’s look at what a detective does and how you can become one.

How To Become a Detective

Job Duties of a Detective

As a detective, you will likely work as a part of law enforcement or with a criminal investigation unit. Some detectives are private detectives, however. If you become a police detective, your job duties will include:

If you decide to become a private detective, your job will be a bit different. You will work for clients, such as attorneys, investigation firms, businesses, or private citizens. A private detective will look into cases involving financial, personal, or legal matters. It’s also common to perform background checks, look for missing people, and investigate cheating spouses in this line of work.

Some of the common job duties for a private detective include:

Many of the job duties are similar for police detectives and private detectives.

How To Become a Detective in 5 Steps

Step #1 – Become a Police Officer

You cannot become a police detective without first becoming a police officer. Most private detectives were police officers first, as well. While there’s no way to guarantee you will reach detective ranks, this is where the journey begins.

you will need to complete police academy training and gain some experience as a police officer. If you want to become a detective, you will need to meet the qualifications for detective certification. These requirements may vary from one state to another, but usually include some type of age requirement, experience requirement, and education level requirement.

Becoming a police officer requires you to have a high school diploma or GED. You will also need to be a citizen with a driver’s license. Meeting the necessary physical requirements and passing the law enforcement entrance exam will get you into the police academy. Then, you will need to complete the academy to become an officer.

Step #2 – Earn Your College Degree

It’s common for a detective to need an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, forensics, or a related field. Some states require one degree or another, while a few states only require a high school diploma. Make sure you check with your state to better understand the education requirements needed to become a detective.

Step #3 – Work as a Police Officer

You will need experience to reach the detective ranks. It’s necessary to work as a police officer and get promoted through the ranks. You will need to show that you’re a competent officer and you have the skills necessary to become a detective.

Step #4 – Become Certified

Detectives will need to gain several years of law enforcement experience. Then, they will need to take the National Detective/Investigative Test (NDIT). This test will show whether you’re prepared to become a detective or not.

After passing the test, you may also need to become certified. You can become certified with the Police Detective (PDET) 200 Series, ASIS International, or Certified legal investigator (CLI) options, depending on what’s required in your area.

Step #5 – Get Promoted

While you can do all the necessary steps to become a detective, you still have to be promoted. If you become promoted, you will go through specialized training to become a detective, in most areas.

Those looking to become private detectives won’t need the same police training. However, it’s common for former police officers to become private detectives. You will still need to get a private detective licensed from your state and potentially become certified.

Choose a Specialty as a Detective

After you become a detective, or even before, you can choose a specific specialty. There are several options to consider including:

Choosing the right specialty for you will make a difference. Make sure you get the necessary experience and education for your chosen detective specialty.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being a Detective

How much can I make as a detective?

The average salary for a detective in the United States, according to, is about $85K per year. Some employers will pay significantly more and some locations pay a higher average salary. Newark, Chicago, and Indianapolis all have average salaries above $90K per year.

If you become a private detective or private investigator, you can expect to earn around $21.50 per hour. Of course, you can choose your rates and make a higher wage, if you prefer. However, you will also have expenses that must be paid for.

What type of benefits can I receive as a police detective?

As a police detective, you will likely gain access to health insurance, life insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, and a 401(k) retirement account. It’s also common to get paid time off and relocation assistance. Some detectives will receive tuition reimbursement, as well.

Is the job of police detective a growing field?

Yes, this field is growing at about the same rate as the average of all other occupations. It’s expected to continue to grow at this rate over the next ten years.

Will I be put in danger as a detective?

The job of a police detective or private detective can certainly come with some risk. You could be in dangerous situations regularly. However, as a law enforcement officer, you will be trained to deal with the risks you will face as a detective.

Will I arrest criminals as a detective?

It’s possible for detectives to make arrests, however, it’s more common for patrol officers to handle the arrests. Detectives spend more time collecting and analyzing the evidence from a crime scene than making arrests.

What type of hours will I work as a detective?

Police detectives work full-time hours and often work overtime, especially when a big case is open. It’s common to work odd hours, nights, weekends, and holidays, if necessary. Most detectives are on-call nearly every hour of every day.

As a private detective, you will likely work irregular hours, as well. This is also a full-time job and you may work many hours outside regular business hours.

How long will it take me to become a detective?

It’s common for detectives to be police officers for many years before becoming detectives. You will need to be patient as it can take three to nine years to become a detective.

It’s more common that a detective will work for at least five years as a police officer before getting promoted. While working as an officer, you can work on finishing your degree and getting the experience you need.

Deciding to become a detective is a big decision. You will need to become a police officer first, which can take some time. Once you’re an officer, you will need to get the right experience and education to move up the ladder through promotions.

It’s a long road ahead for those looking to become detectives. However, if you have a clear path and the right goals, you can become a detective in three years. Just make sure you understand the requirement and do everything you can to make yourself the right candidate for the job.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.