Qualities of a Detective


Individuals, businesses, the government and police departments assign cases to detectives to uncover truths and seek justice. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says private detectives should see greater-than-average job growth through 2018 because of increased litigation, security concerns and Internet crimes. Average annual earnings in May 2008 were $41,760 for private detectives and $60,910 for police detectives and criminal investigators, according to the bureau. This intense job requires a certain type of individual.

Character Traits

  • Because their work results in arrests, convictions and personal accusations, honesty and trustworthiness are essential character traits. Information gathered must be accurate in order to reach a conclusion. Courage and dependability are required; overtime is common, and investigative situations can be dangerous. Resilience is important, because an effective detective never gives up and always strives for a good lead and break in a challenging case. Detectives must avoid rushing to judgment, so they must be open-minded, able to think creatively and be open to multiple theories.


  • Proper training and higher education are needed to perform the job effectively. A minimum of a bachelor's degree in police science, criminal justice or a similar field lays the best foundation for success. Further education in a specialized area might be necessary, such as business administration for work in loss prevention, computer science or forensics for Internet crimes or accounting for financial investigations. Regular attendance at conferences and workshops fulfills a commitment to keep up-to-date with changing technology. Detectives must uphold the law and know local, state and federal laws. Licensure is mandatory in most states, with varying requirements.

Personal Strengths

  • Detectives must be observant and pay attention to detail. This includes having excellent vision and hearing to discover evidence or perform surveillance. They must hold their emotions in check to stay focused on the task and maintain professionalism. A clean background is necessary, free of criminal convictions and drug charges. When questioning suspects or witnesses, a detective must be assertive, persuasive and persistent to reveal pertinent information relative to the case. The ability to be inconspicuous and blend in with surroundings is crucial during undercover investigations. A sharp memory comes into play when piecing together collected evidence and recalling information once thought to be insignificant.


  • Organizational and time management skills make sure ample time is given to investigating multiple avenues and keeping all evidence to develop a strong case. Computers help with research and communication, so detectives must be comfortable using computers and surveillance equipment. Verbal and written communication skills are also necessary for public interaction, calls to the witness stand during court proceedings and accurate, detailed record-keeping. Analytical and problem-solving skills are a major part of the job, as well as the ability to investigate a scene without compromising or destroying evidence.

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