When you think of a private investigator in Manhattan, you may imagine a character from a film noir movie, with a life full of excitement, intrigue and drama. Or, you may think of as how Chron’s Brooke Julia describes them, “smartly dressed men and women going undercover to sniff out the secrets in people's lives, apprehending criminals, solving mysteries and ending the day in an upscale bar sipping martinis.”
The actual experiences of a private investigator, however, will vary widely based on their clients and specialties. And, as Julia explains, “The life of a private investigator rarely holds a "typical day." One case might send an investigator in search of a missing person, while another has him investigating infidelity charges in a divorce case.”
However, the work of many private investigators shares certain basic elements, like:
The client brief
When PInow.com’s David Strong wrote in November of 2016 about the life of a private investigator, he described this part of the day as “the all-important brief.” He describes this as the time when the private investigator receives information from their surveillance manager on each case’s specifics and objectives.
Staying on the right side of the law
In a 2015 piece on his experiences as a private investigator, Tyler Maroney writes: “In my work, I am routinely asked to break the law. An attorney once suggested that I bribe a bank officer for account numbers and balances. This could lead to charges of commercial bribery, unlawful possession of personal identification information and larceny. Felonies.”
“I’ve been asked to obtain flight manifests, steal trade secrets and impersonate mailmen,” Maroney continues. “Felony. Felony. Felony.” As you can see, it’s important for private investigators to both know the law and to make it explicitly clear they will not do anything illegal.
“Many fictional private investigators prefer to operate alone, but in the real world, it’s not uncommon for teams of 2 or 3 to work on a case together,” Strong writes. This can include transportation together by various means, even on foot.
Even if not working with other private investigators, PIs typically interact with various coworkers at their offices or firms, so it’s important to work well with these team members.
In her Chron piece, Julia describes the “sticky situations” private investigators often face: “A married man who has been caught cheating on his wife, or a woman whose criminal background can keep her from landing a job, aren't going to be happy about what you dug up. If they ever confront you about it, you will need to remain calm and rational.”
Julia adds that in some cases, you might even have to contact authorities to protect yourself. At the end of the day, as in many fields of work, safety is most important.