qualities private investigator

The 13 Essential Qualities You Want When Hiring a Private Eye

So you Googled “private investigator” and found a handful of web pages that look like they haven’t been updated since 1995. On one site, a guy was even wearing a trenchcoat and fedora. Ugh…NEXT!

You’ve never hired a private eye, so you have no clue what to look for. But some of the bios sound promising. Former law enforcement? Sure, that’s nice. A college degree? Great. Years of experience? Excellent!

But what about the stuff you can’t include in a resume? What intangibles make a good private investigator great?

After working for a decade with some of the world’s best private eyes, I came up with some answers.

Here are 13 essential qualities you should keep in mind when hiring a private investigator:

  1. A healthy distaste for conventional wisdom. A great PI continuously asks, “Why?” It’s the essence of what we do: the ability to cut through B.S. to find the truth. After all, conventional wisdom is often neither.
  1. Problem-solving ability. Our clients need someone who can figure stuff out. We’re their “ace in the hole.”
  1. Leadership. A movie quote in the recent self-titled Steve Jobs film says, “Artists lead and hacks ask for a show of hands.” The great ones don’t wait around for someone to pave the way; they take the reins. Case in point: fieldwork is not as valuable as it once was, and modern-day private investigators who haven’t adapted will be gobbled up by an automated program or an algorithm. Pave the way, or be paved over.
  1. Ethics. ‘Nuff said.
  1. Business smarts. Without a thriving business, you can’t be a private investigator. That is unless you’re working for someone else.
  1. Uniqueness. A great PI has developed an uncommon service, It’s okay to steal or copy ideas – even the great ones do it. But if you do, add your own twist. A great PI is authentic and original.
  1. An incredible work ethic. Private detectives may work surveillance cases 22 hours straight, or entire weekends and holidays on top of their 9-5 advertised business hours. There is no substitute for hard work.
  1. Humility. There’s nothing worse than some bloated blabbermouth who thinks they know everything. Ego is the enemy.
  1. Controlled aggression. A baseball coach of mine once said, “Take the extra base until the other team proves they can stop you.” As private eyes, we’re covert. We may avoid the limelight by hiding in the shadows, but a great private investigator isn’t soft-spoken. He or she is assertive and forward, constantly pushing the boundaries.
  1. Connections. Has your private eye done surveillance in other states or dug up dirt in other countries? A great PI may not be able to get every answer for you, but they’ll certainly put you in contact with someone who can.
  1. Attention to detail. Paying attention is incredibly valuable. The most minute detail could be a lead, and great investigators are willing to dig into each one.
  1. Fearlessness. We’re often put into situations where the weak of heart shy away. Life, not just investigations, is about getting outside your comfort zone. That’s where the magic is, right? It’s also where great investigators find the evidence.
  1. Two ears, one mouth. Listen first, then talk. You’d be surprised by what people are willing to tell someone who shuts up.

So, the next time you’re looking for a private investigator, consider asking your candidate if they possess a few of these traits. Then ask them if they can elaborate on how they’ve displayed them on the job.

Ask them to tell you a story. After all, a great private investigator knows not to let the herd decide what is heard.

About the Author

Adam Visnic

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Adam Visnic is a private investigator, licensed in both Ohio and Kentucky, and owner of Gravitas Professional Services, LLC. He has an MS in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management and a BS in Criminal Justice both from Eastern Kentucky University, where he was a captain on the Colonels baseball team.

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Comments 9

  1. I didn’t realize that there were so many things to take into consideration when choosing a private detective. However, I like that you included thing such as humility and a great work ethic on this list. After all, if you hire a private eye you want to see them actually working hard and not just gloating about how well they are going to do the work.

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      There are quite a few things to consider, and these were the few that I could firmly stand behind. I just hope I can continue to display these qualities for my clients. And I hope that by doing so, other PIs will follow suit.

  2. I like that you mentioned to find a private eye who has solid connections. Because of the covert nature of the work, it makes sense that they would need people they could gather information from to help you. I have a friend who has been thinking about hiring a private eye to look into some personal matters. I will definitely pass this info on to him.

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      Burt, on top of of the personal connections, a good PI needs business, legal, and industry connections. It’s one thing to be good at the work, but it’s totally another to operate a good business. We strive to do both. Looking forward to your friends call.

  3. I like that you talked about finding a private detective who has connections to get answers for you in any circle of people. I’ve always wondered about hiring a private detective, and what someone could want to use one for, but it would be important to have the right contacts. I think that if I ever do hire a private detective, I’ll have to be sure that I find a reputable one who has connections and can get me the answers and information I need!

  4. I never considered how a PI may have to work 22 hours straight. I guess that’s required for certain stakeouts. A PI could be useful in determining fidelity in divorce cases.

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  5. A friend of mine is thinking about trying to start a career as a private investigator, and I thought I should learn a little more about what that is and if he would be good at it. I hadn’t thought of humility as being a sign of a good private investigator, but I can definitely see how an ego could get in the way of the important work that would need to be done. This career seems like hard work mixed with great experiences. I’ll be sure to share this with him. Thanks!

  6. My wife and I were talking about private investigators the other day, and it got me curious about what types of things you would look for in hiring one! I’m glad that you mentioned that you would want an investigator who has connections in order to be able to get the job done. I think that if I was ever going to hire a private investigator, I’d make sure that he/she had the connections needed that would be helpful to the investigation, and hopefully to help me get the job done!

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