[Note: Like most of my blogs, this will be both surveillance and Florida-centric, so if you’re from another state, or seeking a non-surveillance PI job, use this as a general guideline and adjust it to your situation]
I get a lot calls from interns looking for sponsorship or apprenticeship in the private investigation field in Florida, so I decided to post a helpful blog for those persons interested in a career in private investigation and how to go about getting your first job in the industry. So here are a few tips:
1. Revise your resume
If you do not have work experience in a similar field (military, security, law enforcement, insurance) make sure to highlight any duties of previous jobs that might relate to private investigation. Make sure to fluff things up a bit. Everyone knows people fudge their resumes, so at least make an attempt to fancy it up. I’ve prospects say things like “I’m good at Facebook,” which is probably the worst possible way to phrase that. Try “Possesses extensive skills in social media research and analysis,” sure, I am going to read that as, “they can find people on Facebook,” but I for one appreciate the BS. If you are bilingual or have specialized education, make sure to put that on there prominently! Update or create a LinkedIn profile as well, and post one on other job finding sites.
2. Find local PI meetings
In Florida, we have at least two professional associations for private investigators, and they often have regional monthly meetings and events. Depending on where you live you may have to drive a bit, but it’s well worth your time to get your name out there. In Florida you can try (alphabetically) www.fali.org or www.myfapi.org both are good resources for new investigators to learn and network. Find your local chapter or region and attend the next meeting. Feel free to contact the area director directly with your inquiries. Just check out the contact and calendar pages and give them a call with any questions. It’s their job to help.
Pro Tip: You do not have to limit yourself to just your area. Many PI agencies are statewide and will hire investigators hours away from their physical office. An investigator willing to cover Orlando and Tampa might do well making a trip down to South or North Florida area meetings to offer their services. Think about it this way, local agencies probably don’t have trouble finding help in their area, but agencies further away with statewide work probably get less applicants outside their immediate area. So keep that in mind in your job search.
3. Pitch yourself
Ok, so let’s say you’ve taken my advice so far, and you’re getting ready to go to a private investigator meeting. Come prepared!
Dress professional. Sure, surveillance investigators dress pretty casual, but leave the jeans and sneakers at home this time. Keep it business casual.
Bring resumes. Don’t pass them around like event flyers unless you want that fancy eggshell paper going straight into the trash, but have one ready in a folder if someone asks if you have one.
Introduce yourself. Give a little pitch, drop some skills, and say you’re looking for a job—just don’t lead with it. I’ve had people come up to me the second a meeting ends and say, “hey, will you sponsor me?” That’s just not how you seek a job, any job. “Hi, my name Phillip, I’m a military veteran, with experience in loss prevention, and am looking to become a PI. I’ve already passed the course, and I’m looking to find a good agency in need of an intern. Would it be ok for me to send you a resume?” Personalize your pitch and make it your own, but just make sure it’s better than “hey, you hiring?” which most likely they are not, but each person you talk to probably knows a handful of other investigators. So ask if you could email them your resume in case. They may delete it, or they could forward it to a colleague. (I’d probably go with emailing a resume over handing a physical copy for that reason. It can reach more people.)
Meet other investigators. Don’t just focus on agency owners! They will probably be your biggest asset. They likely know who the big agencies are and who is hiring. They can tell you who to avoid. They can give you tips on surveillance, video editing, etc. You’re going to need help, so make some useful friends right away.
Find the farms. Figure out who the big agencies are, aka the PI “farms” or “mills” as you may hear them called. They often take on interns with little-to-no experience because they have such high work volume, and because of their size they often offer things like healthcare benefits and PTO, which some of your smaller agencies might not be able to afford. Even if the pay isn’t what you’d like, they can be a great stepping stone to hone your skills for your ideal job.
Pro Tip: Provide sample product! Ok, so you want a job. But I have some questions first. Can you hold a camera still? Can you get video indoors? Can you write a legible report? Even if you’re trying to land your very first job, it still goes a long way to provide a sample of your work. Do NOT go following some stranger! Ask a friend or family member if they would let you follow them to create a sample video and report. Keep it brief. Take a short clip of the house and cars, then film them going to their vehicle and leaving. Have them go to a store then film them walking inside, shopping a little, and going back to their car. Now write up a little sample report of what happened. That’s it! You do that, and you will really distinguish yourself from your competition. Trust me!
4. Keep trying
Don’t get discouraged. If you really want to work in this industry and have the drive to do it, you can find a job!
Critique yourself and improve with each closed door. Improve your pitch. Ask people what they would do if they were an intern just starting out.
Just because the person you contacted isn’t hiring, realize they may know other people, so ask if they would hang onto your resume email, so they might forward it to a colleague if one is looking to hire.
Go to multiple meetings. Looking at one of the association websites, they have monthly meetings on different dates. Go to several. It only costs you time and gas.
Keep showing up. PI’s are pretty skeptical. Your repeated presence shows you might be worth getting to know.
P.S. I LOVE feedback. Believe it or not these blogs and videos take me a few hours. If this helped you in your job hunt, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and yes, I will accept your resume.