The series of closed doors that slammed in my (the author’s) face upon reentering the PI industry fit perfectly with the negative reputation of private investigators that I had heard about and had, on occasion, experienced. It’s a very secretive cloak-and-dagger industry that is predominantly male-driven, elitist, competitive, and quite frankly hostile to outsiders and newcomers. Collaboration and mentorship, it seemed, were completely off the table.
The most common problem aspiring investigators have is that they don’t know where to begin. This is a symptom of a lack of mentorship – a way for new investigators to understand the breadth of the industry and the importance of collaboration.
People within the industry need to exhibit more compassion and empathy, especially to those who are new to the industry.
What differences could we make in the world if every investigator pooled their knowledge and shared the things they knew.
One of the biggest mistakes people make coming into the Investigations world is that they take any job they can, disregarding their natural passions and morals for the sake of making a bit of cash.
Come up with your personal North Star – discover where our skills, our passion, and our knowledge intersect.
Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.
Vet your Clients
First and foremost, I always advise investigators to screen the person who is hiring them. “Check them for crazy.” Are their intentions honorable? Do you as the investigator believe them? Are they trustworthy? Are they trying to hurt somebody? Don’t take cases where you might be in the middle of a revenge story.
As private citizens, professional investigators don’t have the law on their side in a circumstance where arrests are made. We have to be more careful than law enforcement. More gray areas.
Conduct a personal risk assessment before entering an investigation. Why are you hiring me, specifically, as opposed to someone else? What else have you done already to solve this problem? What are you going to do with the information I give you? Why haven’t you reported the situation to the police?
A good way to ensure that you and your client have aligned expectations and that the information you’re being provided is accurate, honest, and complete is to have your clients sign a client engagement agreement.
Meet face-to-face. Or at least over Skype.
New investigators and younger digital natives need someone to help guide them through the nuances of the industry, while older, more experienced investigators would benefit from the knowledge of the digital natives and those who understand today’s rapidly evolving technology.
Start eliminating the niches of the industry that don’t intrigue you and focus on those that do.
Your likes/dislikes will evolve over time and you may not become the investigator you started out as.
If you want to be an investigator, but don’t like dealing with people, investigate financial crime: money laundering, identity theft, cryptocurrency fraud, and blackmail.
Ransomware and social engineering are prevalent in this niche. Workplace violence. These can have a big monetary advantage.
Cults, organized crime, terrorism, and human trafficking.
Knowing who you are as a person – where your knowledge, skills, morals, values, and ethics align – is the basis for becoming a world-class investigator.
Investigators solve problems. Investigators evaluate sources and data. Investigators find the truth by examining facts and eliminating bias and speculation.
A common theme is relentless curiosity. Your quest for answers doesn’t stop until you’ve solved the case.
Pursue every line of inquiry till there’s nothing left to pursue.
Investigations is about being open-minded: Ask “what-if” questions, eliminate misinformation, gather facts, corroboration, evaluation, and collaboration.
Volunteering is an efficient way to develop skills that will be transferable to the investigations field.
If you can create a positive track record with at least one government contract, you’re likely to obtain more contracts in the future. You become a known entity and therefore lower risk. These can be worth a lot of money, so they’re ultra-competitive. You have to be skilled, fast, and competitively priced to obtain a government contract.
Enter a group bid by bidding jointly with other experts in order to obtain a larger contract.
As a professional investigator, don’t expect information to be thrown at you. Stay curious. Education is key to becoming a world-class investigator. Find high-quality training programs. Join industry associations. Seek out experts in your area of interest. Find out who embodies what you want for yourself in the future. Linkedin, YouTube Tutorials, online message boards, and forums can help in this arena.
A good mentor will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Don’t seek out a mentor because you want to stay the same, they’re meant to help you get out of your comfort zone. They’ll help you grow, expand the way you think, and gain a different perspective. They’ll guide you through your progression.
When looking for a mentor, look for someone in your inner circle and let them help you. What skills are underdeveloped? What are your strengths? Where are your weak spots?
Usually, mentors come along by accident.
A successful mentor is a cheerleader, coach, and business advisor all rolled into one.
Automation is great for time-saving, however, it also means isolation. Don’t forget about the real world. Collaborate. Learn by doing. We investigators use experiential learning best.
We went from sharing our information purposefully to divulging information routinely and automatically. Social media has become such an integral part of our lives that it now raises suspicion when someone doesn’t have an online presence.
Rather than spread yourself thin to meet client’s needs across all categories of investigation, it’s more important than ever to find your niche. Build from there your network of collaborators. It’s extremely difficult to operate without a niche these days.
If someone asks you what your job is, your answer can no longer be, “I’m an investigator,” without adding “specializing in …” It’s just not possible in the information age to know everything about every aspect of the industry. You may need to explore several areas of investigation before you discover your specialty. Then devote the time to developing your knowledge and skills until you are truly an expert.
Develop a trusted network of collaborators and industry professionals to outsource the parts of your investigation that don’t fit within your capabilities.
I have seen many small investigation firms trying to keep every part of their investigation in-house, which can limit their ability to help their clients as well as limiting the growth of the investigative community.
Now more than ever investigators are protective of their resources, techniques, and networks. If you want to grow your business and reputation, you must collaborate – give as much as you take.
A great investigator knows his or her limitations. Investigations isn’t about winning, it’s about helping.
Step away from the narcissistic mindset and focus on collaboration. The more you collaborate, the better both you and your collaborator will be at your work. Work toward a common purpose, don’t allow your ego to get in the way.
Isolation and atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia lead to demotivation, demoralization, extreme pressure, and ultimately disillusionment.
Build Your Network
The job of an investigator is to carefully scrutinize information and ascertain the facts. As you do so, you need to evaluate the data and the sources it comes from separately.
The best way to build a collaborative environment is to start building your network right away. This process starts from the day you decide you want to be an investigator.
This network should include anyone that can provide value to you and your investigations.
One rule to follow is to not give out direct access to your clients.
Being a trustworthy and non-egotistical person in the investigation industry will help you build your internal investigation network.
If you want something from somebody, be prepared to offer something in return – knowledge, information, and something as small as a cup of coffee.
In a successful collaboration, everybody wins. You’ll not only solve more cases more efficiently, but you’ll also become a connector for other people, which will only increase your value within your network.