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How to Become a Detective: A Career Guide for Beginners

While detective work may seem glamorous on a TV show, but the real detective work is far from it. It takes incredible patience, investigative rigour and ironclad ethics to become a detective. So, how to become a detective? You need to have proper education, training, skills, and certification will help you become a successful detective.

A detective’s work is crucial for any well-functioning law enforcement department. They play a significant role in investigating criminal activity, locating missing persons etc. Detectives also help prosecutors gather evidence to bring wrongdoers to justice. So, without further ado, let’s find out how to become a detective in the UK. 

Table of Contents

Who is a Detective?

Before we begin discussing how to become a detective, let’s talk more about who is a detective.

A detective is essentially a specialist who investigates special, severe or complex cases. Also, detectives have accreditation and take the responsibility of managing an array of investigations. Nature of investigation may include drugs, child protection, robbery, homicide, cybercrime etc. They can also take over cases pertaining to fraud, domestic violence and counter-terrorism.


Additionally, a detective usually works with the criminal investigation department. Therefore, they work with police officers, victims and forensic investigators. Thus, a detective investigation is not a rank but more of a title that demonstrates the nature of work, the skills, training, and experience within this field. Consequently, detectives work alongside their uniformed colleagues, usually at the same pay and rank. 

Types of Detectives

In the UK, there are two main types of detectives; police detectives and private detectives. Although both types of detectives have overlapping competencies, there’s a huge difference between both. 

Usually, police detectives garner experience through their work in law enforcement. And they become detectives through the promotion of agency. In contrast, private investigators typically need a license to gather personal, legal and financial information for a client. In addition, they have to conduct surveillance, perform background checks, track missing people, search record for clues and interview people of interest. 

Additionally, detectives might choose to specialise in a range of fields. It includes homicide, corporate malpractice, computer forensics insurance frauds and other fields.

How to Become a Detective?

If you want to use your investigative skills to fight crime and have a strong ethical compass, becoming a detective might be your true calling. Being a detective requires hard work, perseverance and long hours spent following leads and waiting for development. Follow these simple steps to find out how to become a detective, 

1. Educational Requirements

To become a detective, having a high school diploma or GED is the bare minimum requirement for both types. However, you might pursue higher education and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in something relevant to police work. Subjects can include criminal justice, criminal law, criminology, human relations, judicial functions. Some other subjects like forensic science, political science and criminal procedure are also there.


Taking a major in any of the above-mentioned courses will make you very much desirable. In addition, there are smoke degree programs that include an internship component. This kind of program can give you real-life knowledge on how to become a detective. Furthermore, getting a bachelor’s degree will make it likely to have a higher salary projection.

Gain Certification for Added Advantage 

While studying, it is desirable to take a course on a particular foreign language that you deem useful for your community.  Learning a second language will make you a desirable candidate. It is true, especially if you live in an area where a second language is commonly spoken. Additionally, knowing a foreign language is a major asset for many urban departments and federal agencies. 

You can enrol in this Diploma in Criminal Justice.& Criminology course to learn more about criminal psychology, criminal profiling etc. You’ll gain an accredited certification along with gaining valuable knowledge.

Diploma in Criminal Justice & Criminology
Receive comprehensive training on criminal justice & criminology from scratch to further your career in law enforcement, or forensics.
Diploma in Criminal Justice & Criminology
Receive comprehensive training on criminal justice & criminology from scratch to further your career in law enforcement, or forensics.

2. Physical & Social Requirements

How to become a detective in the UK? First, be the age of at least 21 years old. This is a nationwide requirement, so you won’t be able to be a detective immediately after high school. 

Additionally, there are some physical requirements in order to become a detective. You have to go through a physical exam to show that you have a sound vision, hearing strength and agility. Furthermore, the agency will do a background check on you, which must come out clean. 

You will be disqualified if you have a felony conviction. Also, you will be asked to take a lie detector test and go through a series of interviews before onboarding. So, you have to make sure that you are honest about every question you are asked. Anything other than the truth will have you disqualified. Lastly, you need to have a driver’s license.

3. Possess the Qualities of a Good Detective

You can develop the quality of a good detective over the course of your career. However, starting with a base of qualities that make you perfect for the job can improve your chances of success. 

What are the Qualities of a Good Detective?

Below are some crucial qualities that you need to harbour in order to be a good detective.  

  • Multitasking Ability

A good detective must have the ability to multitask. While you might be focusing on one case at a time, you will still have multiple tasks and a lot of paperwork to get done with. And all these have to be done within the given deadline. Thus, you need to be able to juggle a variety of tasks at once. 

  • Excellent Communication Skill

You must have excellent communication skills. So, if you want to investigate a crime to the best of your ability, you need to be able to talk to people in a comforting manner. Additionally, you have to be very firm while speaking so as to ensure you get the best information possible.

Having strong writing skills is imperative for a good detective. Having a job as a detective isn’t all about going to the field every day. And it is neither just about having high-speed chases nor following exciting leads. There will also be plenty of writing involved, and you will need to know how to best express the details. You have to give a detailed explanation of an incident through concise, accessible writing.   

  • Patience

A good detective is a patient one. With patience, you can’t obsess over solving a case immediately. Sometimes, it can take months or even years to follow a lead. Also, a lot of your detective work will lead to dead ends.

  • Attention to Detail and Perceptiveness

Detectives need to develop the ability of perceptiveness. You have to take in all of the details of the crime scene and think of the information in an original way. It helps you to get one step closer to finding the solution.

Professionalism and Confidentiality 

Being a private investigator, Professionalism and Confidentiality is important too as you will be dealing with private matters. Especially for companies that hire a private investigator to look for their employee misconduct. As per one Private Investigator In the West Midlands, “Professionalism and Confidentiality is one of the utmost characteristics that a private investigator should possess”.

4. Get Your Police Officers Training

While being a police officer isn’t mandatory for being a detective, however, it is highly recommended. You can also gather experience in other ways, such as military training. However, this is the most well-trodden way there is. Additionally, you will have to complete the academic training program as a police recruit. It will require you to pass written and physical tests before becoming an officer.

Furthermore, you can get your training at a local police department or a state-federal agency.


5. Gain Relevant Work Experience

How to become a detective? You can get your relevant training and experience by becoming a police officer. After becoming a police officer, you need to put in your best effort for at least three years. You won’t be eligible for a detective position before fulfilling your duty as a police officer for three years. To prove yourself to the superiors, you will have to go above and beyond the call of duty. You also have to score high on agency exams and get high marks in evaluation from your superior.

Tips on How to Become a Detective

Is being a detective hard work? The short answer is yes, it’s hard work. But if this is what you want, it’s worth it. When you ingrain it in your mind, it won’t seem that hard. 

In fact, there are some ways you can make yourself stand out while you gain experience in the job,

  • Try to stay physically fit and continue exercising regularly. Try doing aerobic and strength training to stay physically fit and handle the gruelling nature of your job.
  • Be tech-savvy and always brush up on your knowledge and skills regarding the latest techniques and technology. You can study computer forensics if you want to learn how to fight cybercrime. Always try to remain updated on the latest advances so that you are ready to be a detective when the time comes. 
  • To become a detective, you have to develop your investigative skills. Be perceptive in your work and pay attention to details. Perception is a crucial quality for a detective.
  • If you aspire to be a detective, practice writing a detailed report on crime scenes and accidents, showing nothing can pass by you.

Police Detective VS Police Officer

Now that you know how to become a detective, let’s move on to knowing how to become a police detective. 

But first, let’s get some basics squared about the difference between police detectives versus police officers. While some duties and skills overlap between the two roles, they are two different positions. And they require different levels of expertise and experience.


For instance, in case of a homicide, police patrol officers are the first to be called to the scene of the crime. They are responsible for assessing the overall situation, gathering evidence, and protecting the scene from contamination. They also work to identify victims, witnesses and potential suspects. In essence, the work done by the officers lay the groundwork for a successful investigation.

Next, police detectives are called onto the scene. Then they collect and evaluate evidence. Additionally, they have to interview witnesses, interview, and question potential suspects, obtain arrest warrants and finally close cases. 

Consequently, detectives move a step beyond just getting a crime scene under control. They also identify the basic facts of the situation. Police detectives need to have a strong reasoning, personal communication, and investigative skills to build strong cases.    

How to Become a Police Detective?

We’ve discussed the difference between a police detective and a police officer. So, how to become a police detective? And what do you need to be a detective?  Every police department in the UK does things a little differently due to size, jurisdiction and regulatory environment. There is no one size fits all when it comes to becoming a police detective.

Get Educated to Become a Police Officer

Education requirements may vary for police officers depending on their role. However, law enforcement officials need to know an extensive list of regulations. It will help you fulfil your responsibilities properly. Additionally, reports written by police detectives are essential to cases and used by higher officials, attorneys and judges. Thus, getting highly educated and acquiring communication skills are paramount.

Additionally, you have to meet several requirements, as discussed earlier, to become a police officer.


Collaborate & Gain Experience

Police officers often collaborate with police detectives. So, pay attention to their nature of work and try to learn from them. While police officers are trained to perform all the skills as a police detective does, detectives have the benefit of years of mastering them. Your training should never stop, even after becoming a police officer. 

Additionally, there are two skills that are absolutely crucial to good detective work; interviewing and interrogation.

How to Become a Homicide Detective?

A homicide detective is what we call murder police in the UK. They work as members of a team to solve what is the ultimate crime. Homicide detectives are usually dedicated to major crimes such as homicide. Homicide detectives, in most cases, work their way up through the ranks of their law enforcement agencies


So, how to become a homicide detective? You have to major in criminal justice and choose a program in college that offers experiential learning. Alongside, you can also take relevant courses online such as criminal intelligence, criminology and police investigations etc. Candidates also have to attend the police academy and must pass a physical agility test along with written examinations.

After graduating from the police academy, you will work with suspects and victims as a police officer. All in all, experience and learning how to deal with difficult situations is an integral part of becoming a good homicide detective.

How to Become a Private Detective?

Private detectives are usually employed by private investigation agencies or private clients. They dig up information regarding the financial, legal and personal matters of people. Seeing private detectives in movies is always fascinating and makes one wonder how to be a detective. And what do you need to become a detective? Knowing and respecting the laws are the basic tenets of becoming a private detective. 


Additionally, you have to apply for a license to operate legally as a private investigator. You have to demonstrate that you are worthy of being licensed. Experience is given preference over the level of education in this field. However, you may be allowed to forego the experience if you have been in the military, law enforcement agency or a private detective training.

Private investigators might be allowed to carry a weapon for self-defence. Hence, you need to undergo firearms training.  Additionally, self-defence training may also be a requirement. Besides the experience and education requirement, there should not be any criminal conviction record of you. You have to submit your fingerprints for a federal criminal database check. 

Private Detective Training
Learn how to become a real-world crime investigator with this Detective: Private Detective Training course
Detective : Private Detective Training
Learn how to become a real-world crime investigator with this Detective: Private Detective Training course

How Long does it Take to Become a Detective?

Now that we all know how to be a detective and what you need to become a detective, let’s find out how long it takes to become a detective. Working in a uniform position for at least two years is essential in order to for your career to further progress. And it is a must to become a police detective or work as a detective in a law enforcement agency.


You also have to pass specific examinations within the police force to be eligible for a promotion. Passing the National Investigator’s Exam is a must to be accepted onto the trainee detective constable program. You get three years worth of time to join the program after passing the NIE. So, there is no rush for you to immediately join in. It also enables an officer quite a lot of time to prepare themselves. 

Moreover, there is a direct entry route into becoming a detective called the “detective career pathway”. This program enables you to join the role of trainee detective constable. You don’t need any prior policing experience. And you don’t need to serve a 2 years probationary period as a police constable either. However, you do need to have a minimum level 6 qualification. 

On top of that, you need to have an undergraduate degree in any relevant discipline. Also, you have to hold a GCSE qualification if your level 6 qualification was obtained someplace else other than the UK. Trainee detective constables get 20 weeks of training to learn all the knowledge required to become a detective. 


The career of a detective is challenging and exciting at the same time. Being a detective in the public or private sector can seriously change your life. Detectives have to be focused and work well under pressure with resilience. Not to mention, the career of a detective comes with a competitive salary and benefits packages. So, if you have what it takes to embark on this career path, then get on it today!

May 20, 2022

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