How to Become a Criminal Investigator

Learn more about what it takes to succeed as a criminal investigator and how to prepare for a career as a criminal investigator.

How to Become a Criminal Investigator

Whether you currently work in law enforcement or are seeking a new career that will allow you to fight crime and protect your community, becoming a criminal investigator can open a range of challenging and satisfying paths. Being a criminal investigator allows you to operate independently, solve problems, and give back to the community. The role of a criminal investigator can take several different forms, often as detectives or crime scene investigators. However, all criminal investigators share common responsibilities: they collect evidence, interview individuals who are related to a case and testify about their cases in court.1

What Do Criminal Investigators Do?

Being a criminal investigator may involve gathering information to help clients either defend against or pursue a criminal claim.2 As a criminal investigator, you may work for private individuals or in collaboration with local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies.3 Some criminal investigators are hired by corporations to investigate potential fraud, and these individuals devote their time to protecting the interests of their company.2 Criminal investigators may also work at the scene of a crime, examining the scene to determine what happened based on the evidence and interviewing people at or related to the scene for more information.4

Is Becoming a Criminal Investigator Right for Me?

Working as a criminal investigator is an excellent fit for individuals who enjoy challenges and problem-solving2 and who are not afraid of potentially dangerous or emotionally difficult work environments.4 It may not be for everyone, but being a criminal investigator lets you make an impact on the world and keep your community safer.

To become a criminal investigator, you should have:3

  • Comfort with technology: Documenting information, utilizing audio/video recording equipment and software, researching with a database
  • Interpersonal and communication skills: Managing uncomfortable conversations, testifying at trials, understanding how best to get information out of someone
  • Memory and observation skills : Paying attention to the scene at hand, memorizing and clearly recalling details
  • Flexibility: Being available at varied hours, adapting to changing situations and circumstances
  • Integrity: Choosing to do the right thing for the right reasons

Becoming a Criminal Investigator: Step-by-step

The specific requirements for becoming a criminal investigator vary from state-to-state, so confirm what the requirements are in your state before moving forward. However, the steps generally include:

  1. Determine which criminal investigation career you want to pursue1 Are you interested in working as a private detective, a crime scene investigator or even an IRS agent? Research the field that interests you most and determine what the requirements are for that role.
  2. Pursue an education. While it’s possible to become a criminal investigator with as little as a high-school diploma, more advanced positions with higher pay frequently require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Coursework should include criminology, victimology, sociology, and more specialized focuses such as investigative techniques and community-oriented policing.3 Make sure you understand the necessary qualifications for the criminal investigator career you want to pursue.1
  3. Gain experience working in law enforcement,3 or complete an apprenticeship with a professional criminal investigator.2 Many individuals who choose to become criminal investigators are switching from careers in law enforcement, which gives them a solid background in the criminal justice system and understanding of law and crime. This kind of experience is especially helpful if you want to be a crime scene investigator.1 If you want to become a criminal investigator but don’t have experience in law enforcement, you can often gain on-the-job training by apprenticing with an experienced criminal investigator.
  4. Prove that you have a clean criminal history.2 To become a criminal investigator, you’ll need to undergo a background check and pass a drug test. If you’ve been convicted of certain crimes, you may be disqualified from some criminal investigator positions.1
  5. Apply for an investigator’s license.2 You’ll need a license, sometimes called a private investigator’s license, to be able to work as a criminal investigator. This process may be slightly different from state to state, but generally you will need to apply with a copy of your criminal history and other documents that show you’re qualified for the position.
  6. Get bonded in your state.2 Many states (though not all) require criminal investigators to obtain a bond that guarantees you will follow the terms of your criminal investigator license. You’ll pay a bond company a small fee, and in turn, the company agrees to pay out if you fail to uphold your obligations as a criminal investigator. This protects the public by ensuring that you will do the right thing.
  7. Complete on-the-job training.1 Depending on your specific field, you may need to complete weeks, months or years of actual hands-on training before you’re able to become a full-time criminal investigator.

If you’re considering a career as a criminal investigator, advanced education can help you get there. The online Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Kent State University allows students gain a deeper understanding of crime and justice while studying under experts with direct experience in the field. You’ll collaborate with other working professionals in a convenient, affordable, yet challenging environment, and gain the skills necessary to advance your career.


  1. Retrieved on September 29, 2019, from
  2. Retrieved on September 29, 2019, from
  3. Retrieved on September 29, 2019, from
  4. Retrieved on September 29, 2019, from
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Dr. Astrid N. Sambolín Morales is an Assistant Professor in Kent State Online’s 100% Online Master of Education degree in Cultural Foundations. She received her PhD in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research provides a more nuanced picture of the agency, resistance, and empowerment enacted by displaced Puerto Rican m(others) in the U.S., and her work was funded by several grants, including the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center, the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education, the URBAN Research Network, and the NAEd Spencer Foundation.