AMU Editor's Pick Original Veterans

Veteran to Private Investigator – A Day in the Life of a PI

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Jennifer Marshall, Contributor

I don’t wear a fedora or smoke a cigar, nor do I have an old dark office with seedy-looking frosted glass and my name on the door.

Due to the nature of my business, there isn’t ever a “typical day,” but there are days that are more common than others. The not-so-common days tend to be either hilarious, off the wall, or completely crazy. Truth is often stranger than fiction.

A Typical Day for a P.I.

I’ll start a case by having an intake call of 30 minutes. This is a nominal fee as everyone deserves to be paid for their time and expertise. Plus, the majority of clients I speak with will never go on to hire an investigator.

They just want to know their options, glean some knowledge, and in many cases, vent to an impartial ear. The only exception to the intake call charge is if the client has a concern with which I am thoroughly unfamiliar—in that case, I will take the call for free to pass it on to another investigator who specifically works in this realm.

Investigators often pass cases to one another when they know they are functioning outside of their skill set. If you’ve ever run across a PI who claims they “do it all,” run. Everyone has their particular skill set and weak areas and it’s a strength to acknowledge them.

During the intake call, I’ll determine the needs of the client and if I need to engage another investigator for part of the work. For instance, I rarely, if ever, engage in surveillance work.

Early in my career, I would work on many types of cases while I was trying to amass enough hours for my license. I worked under two different private investigators, and each had their particular areas of expertise. I learned much, including what interested me and what caused nothing but drama and nonsense.

Today I take on only the cases that appeal to me: missing persons, locating birth parents, finding lost loved ones, fraud, workman’s compensation, or background investigations. I stay far away from any sort of infidelity cases; I don’t need the drama or the headache, and there is a ton of it with these cases!

For my show on the CW, Mysteries Decoded, I’ve been thrilled to work on things I never could in my real practice (while traveling the country!) Historical mysteries like the murder of Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother, possible military coverups like what happened at Roswell and Montauk Air Base, and even paranormal subjects like Bigfoot and Mothman. It’s been a surreal and awesome experience.

Overall, in my day-to-day practice, there is a lot of paperwork and much of the work can be done online. Things have changed a lot in the past decade or two and I often have older PIs reach out to me for assistance, especially with social media needs.

What keeps me coming back, day after day? There is nothing like finding that one thread that unravels everything. My breath catches in my throat and my heart races…it’s a feeling of satisfaction like no other.

It’s being able to crack something years or even decades in the making. I’ll never forget the client who came to me at 60 years old, explaining that she had been looking for her birth father since her 20s. She had scoured the internet, asked relatives, and hired an investigator but he could not be located. Three days after our intake meeting, I tracked him down in Germany. He was over 80 and had no idea she existed. They now have a relationship today.

Perhaps the best part about being an investigator is that every day is different, new, and exciting. There aren’t many jobs like that. It took thousands of hours to earn my license and years of working with other investigators, but it was worth every minute. The fact that I don’t have to call anyone boss is a bonus.

The Path to a Career as a P.I.

If you’re a veteran looking for a career in private investigations, it’s best to find a mentor in the field who you can learn from. But don’t forget about education!

What’s the best degree? There are PIs with degrees in accounting, criminal justice, foreign language, etc. There are PIs with backgrounds in law who work with lawyers. PIs with backgrounds in the medical field are called upon for their particular field of knowledge. It’s all about what calls you.

Jennifer Marshall is a proud Navy veteran and vocal advocate for the military veteran community. You may know her as the host of Mysteries Decoded on the CW (yes, she really is a licensed Private Investigator), or as Max's mom on Netflix's hit, Stranger Things. Other shows she's appeared on include NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, and Nickelodeon's Game Shakers, to name a few.

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