Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Private Investigator in Singapore?

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The private investigation (PI) industry has been rapidly gaining traction over the years, with PI services extending far beyond just catching cheating spouses. Children suspected of truancy or mixing around with bad company, and domestic helpers thought to be moonlighting on the side, have all been targets of PI work.

If you fancy yourself as the next Sherlock Holmes, you might be intrigued to learn more about carving out a career as a PI. However while this line of work may no doubt come across as thrilling, it certainly is not for your average Joe.

We got Mr James Loh, founder of International Investigators, to dish out the dirt on the qualifications and skill-sets required to be a competent PI in Singapore.

The Basic Requirements

According to Mr Loh, the first basic requirement for becoming a PI is attaining a PI licence from the Singapore Police Force.

Only Singapore Citizens and Singapore Permanent Residents may apply for a PI licence. The application may be rejected if the applicant has been involved in unlawful activities, is an undischarged bankrupt, or has shown a lack of integrity in dealings.

After obtaining a PI licence, aspiring PIs should next complete a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) “Perform Investigation Activities in Compliance with Legal Requirements (PI)” course.

It also goes without saying that anyone interested in PI work should possess strong investigative skills, and Mr Loh highlights that PIs need to be physically and mentally resilient.

The Training

On average, it takes about 5 weekdays, including an assessment period, to train a new hire. However, training is primarily on-the-job, and one must be prepared to get down and dirty.

At Mr Loh’s firm, junior PIs are attached to senior PIs who serve as mentors to guide them and demonstrate how to handle all sorts of scenarios. New hires are easily given to panic when they believe they have been discovered, and hence it is important that there is a senior present to manage the situation.

Mr Loh shares with a chuckle, “Once, a junior was so nervous he forgot to press the ‘record’ button!”

Personal Qualities

When asked about the personal qualities needed to succeed as a PI, Mr Loh mentions passion, interest and honesty as top priorities.

Interest is a must, and he states that even persons with high stamina will not be able to succeed should they lack any form of interest in PI work. Honesty is, of course, also paramount as PIs must only report facts and not fabricate information in order to close a case.

Long and irregular hours are to be expected, since the nature of the job is rather unpredictable. It is therefore important that PIs be able to manage their time wisely and commit to the cases they take on.

He also warns against overconfidence, such as promising clients that cases will definitely be closed in 3 days or offering a money-back guarantee. As mentioned, honesty is extremely vital and PIs will find their credibility seriously damaged when they fail to deliver on promises.

“It’s easy to get jaded in this industry and think that nobody or nothing is good in life,” Mr Loh shares. Hence, he stresses the need to maintain a positive outlook on life and remain optimistic at all times, so as to avoid having a toll taken on your mental health.

Gadgets and Gizmos

As for the gadgets used (we know – this is the exciting part!), the essential ones include a digital camera, a DSLR for long-distance shots, a pin-hole camera and a voice recorder.

For those who are just starting out, Mr Loh recommends sticking to just a simple camera instead of fancy equipment. Even a mobile phone camera would be sufficient if the resolution is high enough.

Furthermore, it is much preferred that PIs have their own mode of transport as they are often required to tail their subjects via vehicles. Tailing subjects in a taxi often increases the risk of losing sight of the subject.

Female Detectives Have the Edge

Interestingly, for the issue of gender, Mr Loh tells us that female detectives have the edge. This is because female detectives are far less likely to be discovered since they tend to appear less threatening than male detectives. Clients usually request for female PIs whenever the subject is female as well.

“Wouldn’t it be very obvious if a man follows you into a lingerie or makeup store?” says Mr Loh with a laugh.

Climbing Up the Ranks

What about the career progression then? Mr Loh explains that the more skilled and experienced you are, the more you earn. In addition, senior PIs can strike it out on their own by obtaining a licence and running their own agencies.

Fresh graduates should not be deterred from applying to become a PI. In fact, Mr Loh even prefers them as he finds that those who lack experience prove to be more eager to learn and take instructions.

As a final word of caution, Mr Loh emphasises that “people need to start from the bottom”. One should not apply to become a PI and expect to be paid a high salary just because they have a university degree.

What do you think? Does being a PI sound like the job for you?