As a young woman, I worked as a private investigator and process server in South Florida. It was at that point in my life I learned there are some definite advantages to being a female in an industry that is predominately male, especially one where being inconspicuous and charming is so vital.
Being a private dick was a lot different than I had imagined. Forget wielding a .45, driving a red Ferrari, and helping that poor widow millionairess find her long lost daughter. The majority of my time was spent gathering information about people who did not want to be found, from people who were usually hostile and suspicious. That Imagine sitting alone in your car for eight hours staring at someone else’s house, literally watching the grass grow.is where my feminine whiles and pretext came in. Pretext is a word that can basically be defined as legal lying. As a licensed investigator, I was allowed to use a false identity in order to interrogate a witness or gain entry to a home, as long as I was not misrepresenting myself as an agent of the government or of an existing company. However, I found that being a young, attractive woman made it easy to get information from people without even trying to hide the fact that I was a P.I. In some cases, I would show my license and the subjects would be so enthused by what I did for a living that they would spill their guts if I just told them how cool my job was.
Another advantage to being a female investigator was how desirable I was to employers. Since there was such a shortage of women in the field, finding a job was much easier for me than it was for my boyfriend (Oops . . . I mean ex-boyfriend), who was not only better equipped, but also a military veteran. How well-spoken and intelligent you were played the biggest part in how quickly you were hired, but being a woman was the extra push an agency might have needed to choose you over a similarly qualified candidate who happened to be male.
You may be wondering why I chose to leave a profession that seems so glamorous and exciting. Hollywood makes being a P.I. look like it is all about explosions and love affairs, but if they ever made a movie about what it is really like to be on surveillance, it would be a pretty damned boring movie. Imagine sitting alone in your car for eight hours staring at someone else’s house, literally watching the grass grow. Who would pay to see that? Not me, and I certainly didn’t enjoy being the creepy loner waiting in the unbearable heat, praying to God that the subject would come out so I could do something besides twiddle my thumbs. Because I could not take my attention away from the property I was staking out, the hours dragged by. And it can get pretty lonely out there, especially if you’re away from home in some tiny rat hole of a town. Thank God for Howard Stern and NPR, who became my best friends during those long hours of silent spying.
On the other hand, it’s a hell of a lot more exciting then flipping burgers. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush of tailing a car through traffic, trying not to get made (made means caught) before you can grab some good footage on tape. And although insurance fraud surveillance is the most reliable source of income for a private investigator, it is not the only source. Locates and background checks are also very popular and lucrative jobs. And of course being a private investigator is always a good icebreaker at parties.
If you are interesting in pursuing a career in this industry, I suggest you call your State Department to find out about the federal licensing pre-requisites. Every state has different requirements and laws, but the information is easy to find and usually posted on their Web sites.