In order to become a successful Private Investigator, you must have the ability and skills to present yourself well to your potential clients, and, the innate “salesmanship” to market your own business. You must first complete the academic necessities, followed by “hands-on” apprenticeship, and, thereafter pursuing either “generalist” or “specialist” work. Our discussion to this question will consider the varied areas of specialty.
In either event, the burden is upon YOU to “prove” to a potential client that you can “do the job” (better than anyone else), that you "always get your man", and, that your professional service fees are competitive … “but slightly higher than most because you are the best in the field”, or, “slightly lower than anyone because you are just getting into the business”, or, “lower than others because you believe the fees charged by others are excessive for the services they are providing”.
There are, of course, dozens of areas of “specialization” the incoming Private Investigator might want to eventually consider once you have fully and successfully completed your period of “generalized” education and apprenticeship. All in all, it effectively depends upon your own background, experience, talent(s) and interest(s).
If you have an accounting designation, you may want to lean towards “Financial Investigation”, or, if you have a prior expertise in computer coding better than most, assuredly consider becoming an “ethical hacker”, or, if you have a strong familiarity with electronics, then you may want to “break into banks, for the banks”. Bottom line … when looking to “specialize” … look FIRST to your work, interest and academic background to see the “blend”.
Some Investigators choose to specialize in insurance cases, such as fraudulent workers' compensation claims, watching claimants suspected of defrauding the insurance company, et al. In such cases, the Private Investigator would take photos, for example, of a “back-pain claimant” lifting heavy objects in order to show the insurance company that the person is not actually suffering from debilitating pain.
One (1) of the largest areas of business for Private Investigators is found in marital conflict / domestic relations cases, where a Private Investigator is hired to perform surveillance upon a spouse considered to be unfaithful. Although in most jurisdictions such evidence as may be collected is not useful in Court, many suspicious spouses retain Investigators merely to confirm or alleviate their concerns.
Intellectual property theft / piracy cases provide another area of specialization. In such matters, the Private Investigator would be serving the artistic community, such as musicians, writers, publishers, etc. As such, the Investigator would be engaged to track down individuals who have “stolen intellectual property” in order to bring the offenders to justice.
Many attorneys and law firms routinely engage Private Investigators to assist them in the collection of evidence in order to “prove” a criminal act, and, conversely to set an innocent person free as well as a myriad of other case-types. Of all areas of Investigation, the building of business relationships with attorneys and law firms can be by far the most rewarding.
Then there is the specialization of “protection services”, as many “bodyguards” are affiliated with the Private Investigation industry. Some “protection services” involve “big, beefy men” who keep the general public away from famous rock stars.
But other protection services should be considered as well, such as “preliminary security services” whereby the area at which a client is to arrive is “scoped out” in order to assure the client’s safety. For example, renting the client's hotel room a day or so before the client arrives in order to “scan and clear” the room / area for illegal surveillance equipment placed by paparazzi or whomever.
Private Investigators also work from within organizations in order to investigate employees suspected of theft or drug use, or, work outside of the organization in order to investigate companies that may be “ripping off” consumers (i.e., a company employee selling secrets to a competitor).
Private Investigators may also specialize in accounting investigations, providing financial services to help monitor those who deal with money. For example, the Investigator may be hired by a law firm or an accounting firm in order to investigate payments made, to determine whether those payments were real or fictional, and, to ascertain if those payments were merely an attempt by the company to increase their earnings reports for shareholders.
Private Investigators work in the retail venue … stores, hotels, cruise ships, airports, and railroads … in order to help manage the movement of people and to prevent theft, as well as thwarting shoplifters, and, even watching the employees in an effort to reduce employee theft.
Corporate espionage is relatively a growing form of “business” that is in reality “questionably ethical”. After all, if you had a business, would you want someone spying on you in order to learn the secret(s) of your success ?
Still, it is a viable undertaking for someone with very finely-tailored investigative talents and skills. In such a situation, the Investigator would be “conducting business” directly with the competitor (and/or sifting through discarded files in order to see how they conduct their business), then “selling” the findings report to the competition.
Private Investigators also are engaged as “loss prevention specialists”. As perfectly represented in the movie “Sneakers”, you may recall that the subject-line required breaking into banks specifically in order to help those banks identify “weak spots” in their security systems. This is assuredly an area of specialization in great demand requiring a background in electronics as well.
"Ethical hackers" is a modern-day term used to reference individuals who undertake “online” versions of the work performed by Private Investigators. “Ethical hackers” are engaged by companies and governments in order to attempt to identify “holes” in their “cyber-systems” in order that the flaws may be corrected before “unethical hackers” can take advantage. This is a present day “gold-mine” for the specially-trained Private Investigator with a strong computer / IT background.