So you want to be a Private Investigator (Surveillance)


If you’re considering entering the world of Private Investigations as a Surveillance Agent, read on, you may be surprised..

In this day and age of Government funded courses, private investigation training is available en-masse to those seeking work. Do a course, get a job as an Investigator. Seems like a viable career choice, a little exciting perhaps, great job title. But there’s a little more to it than passing a course and getting your licence.

Chances are if you’ve never had any interviewing, investigations or police detective experience, you’ll get your start in Investigations by way of Surveillance. Sounds like fun right? A lot like the movies where you follow someone 10m back and they just ignore that you exist in a beast of a customised SUV? Rip out a camera, capture the subject doing the wrong thing and it’s money in the bank.

So let’s get started..

Well first off you’re going to need a Surveillance vehicle. In essence you can use any type of vehicle that allows you to follow someone for extended periods and conceals you when stationary. The more obvious the vehicle is, the more obvious you are. As staying unnoticed is a big part of the job, having rhe right vehicle is a big plus. Most think white van, but just remember that wary subjects also think white van. Learning to maintain safe distances and taking up vantage points at distance can assist you greatly with removing some onus from your vehicle. Remember though, employers and those giving out contracts don’t take too kindly to you being noticed as it burns the subject for an extended period and makes continued surveillance efforts difficult.

Next off you’re going to need a range of surveillance equipment. This is all pretty self explanatory, spend some money, buy some gear. A covert camera, whilst not always essential to land all jobs, is a required part of selected jobs.

If you’re going to work as a sub-contractor you’ll also need to look into insurances and any other business requirements you’ll be required to have.

Now that we’ve gone out and and spent time and money doing a course, getting a licence, setting up a business, vehicle and equipment, you’re ready to get some work. Have I mentioned that the industry is extremely competitive yet? One of the guys that entered the industry around the same time as I (think middle ages), offered his services for a fortnight free of charge to prove his worth.

So after a considerable outlay of time and money, you land your first job. What do you have to look forward to?

Over 90% of all work conducted by Surveillance Agents is by way of Government, law firms and large scale companies. This is just an educated guess based on experience in the industry, but to be honest I think it’d be even higher. What this means is you’ll likely be given a file on a subject and a set time frame in which to complete the job. The rest is up to you.

The jobs themselves can be tedious and extremely boring. Arriving before the crack of dawn is not uncommon. Waiting for hours with no sighting is not uncommon. Sitting in an extremely hot vehicle for hours on end is not uncommon. With experience you may learn to better judge your options, however subjects still have the capacity to offer very little at any given time. What’s more if you’re not gaining results on your jobs then you run the risk of not being given more. As such it is also not uncommon for new private investigators to go over the hour limit on their own time and expense in an attempt to gain some form of result. Those other hours worked just go the way of the Dodo.

In essence it is an industry where skill sets do vary greatly. An experienced investigator will develop a knack for being there at the right time, being at the right angle, not getting noticed, and obtaining great footage. To do so you’ll need to firstly be there, which may require following a subject by car for extended periods including peak hour traffic. These can be extremely trying as you can’t be too close, but a change of lights could mean the subject is lost. Regaining a subject in these situations can make or break your day as well as the file. After all you can’t charge for surveillance when you have no idea where the subject is.

New investigators do not commonly have many of the polished skills required to be highly effective from the outset and gain high volume work. Yes you may have a gift for it, but there are many in the industry with such gifts as well as years of experience. If you are deciding where the work goes, who do you think gets first crack at it?

On top of setting up and conducting all these hours of surveillance, you’ll also need to write it up. This can constitute hours of sitting at a pc writing up completed jobs. You’ll want to get this done quickly as the sooner you finish and hand in the job, the sooner you get paid and give yourself a chance at more work.

So let’s summarise the potential start to a day for a Surveillance Agent.

You wake up at the crack of dawn, drive 20km, sit there surveilling a subjects house in the not so nice part of town, nothing takes place, it’s 8am but the internal vehicle temperature is already over 30c, the neighbours closest to your vantage point have started taking an interest in you and they don’t look too pleased (might have a false claim in and think you’re watching them). So it’s 8am, you’ve been awake since 4:30 . You’re report offers nothing at this stage and you’ll likely have to move before the locals start banging on your doors. To top it off your other jobs are over 40km away, it’s peak hour, and they’ve likely left the house by now anyways. What do you do next?

This isn’t an uncommon situation, especially with inexperienced investigators.

Now with all that said, I don’t discourage those that wish to enter the industry and conduct surveillance. It’s just that you need to make an informed choice. Most people quit, plain and simple. Many more simply will never have what it takes. If you still think being a private investigator is the job for you, that’s great and welcome to the industry. Good luck with it.