Did you know private investigators exist in real life? I mean, yes, theoretically I know they exist but I’m always a bit in disbelief when I hear it’s a real job one can pursue. My first question is always — what type of women is drawn to that type of work? And then I immediately picture Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality. I mean, don’t we all? Well, honestly, after reading the below interview I don’t think I’m that far off. It takes guts, drive, and an addiction to an abnormal life. Emily is continuing our career series with her interview of a private investigator whose identity we are keeping under wraps because that’s how cool her job is. Enjoy!
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Hawaii and I moved to LA two years ago.
What do your parents do?
My dad was a general contractor, and my mom traded stocks and took care of us. Nothing related to being a Private Investigator. I’m the odd ball in my family…
Did you go to university?
No, I wanted to work right after highschool and ended up getting a couple jobs. Then I was going go to college after a couple of years but I ended up just traveling and working odd jobs. I cleaned houses, I was a waitress —I was a horrible waitress—I got fired from like four waitress jobs.
And this was in Hawaii?
Yeah, there’s not much to do in Hawaii so I was working in the hospitality industry, mostly, customer service. I taught surf lessons to kids for a while then worked at a travel club. One day I decided I wanted to go to school for criminal justice but I couldn’t because it was too expensive.
What inspired the interest in criminal justice?
When I was six years old I used to spy on all my neighbors. I would write down the license plates of every car that came into my neighborhood. I was always wanting to inspect things and figure stuff out. I never really realized how I could get into it later, I’ve just always been fascinated with crime and serial killers.
I called a private investigation company because that’s a similar line of work to what I wanted to do. I was 21 and I called the top private investigation agency on the island and was just like ‘Hi, I’d like to intern with you guys.’ But they didn’t take interns; they told me I needed to be on payroll legally for that type of job. So I asked them if I could apply for a job.
Is it something your parents have been supportive of?
Yeah, they’re pretty liberal and spiritual, so they’re very supportive. The only thing was it was possibly dangerous so my mom was a little worried about what could happen.
Why did you decide to go the PI route, versus working as a detective for the police or for an agency, like the FBI or CIA?
It was an education thing. I’m very impatient also, which is probably negative but I wanted something to happen now, I didn’t want to wait. Once you’re in the police force you need to wait maybe ten years before you can even become a detective — five if you’re lucky.
So when you asked the investigation firm about applying for a job what happened?
I was brought in for three rounds of interviews and in the end they told me they’d like to have me join. Something that was beneficial—which I didn’t think would be — was that I had acting experience. My boss liked that I had acting experience, and said they needed a young female who’s unsuspecting and can get the job done.
What was the interview process like for this role?
It was a little intense because the boss was the special agent in charge. He said so many detectives or ex-detectives and ex-police officers, people who have college degrees would come and apply so I thought ‘okay, I’m not gonna get this.’ But he said ‘No we put your application on top because you’re fresh and you’re different and we need that.’
What was the training like once you were hired?
I had to go to the field print and get my FBI clearance, the top secret FBI clearance. And then I had to go to a guard certification class because the company that I worked for is also HR for a security company, so to be part of that I had to go through security guard training. It was strange, but through that I ended up doing special officer jobs too. Then mostly I just started off sitting in on interviews and interrogations so I could see how it worked. Learning all the background check systems and drug tests.
Did you have to get a Private Investigator license?
No, I don’t have my license but I work for a licensed PI.
What is the benefit of being licensed versus not licensed?
If you have a license you can have and run your own company. Or you can work solo out of your home and take contract jobs whenever they come up.
How would you describe to people the difference between working as a private investigator versus a traditional 9-5 job?
Nothing against 9-5 jobs at all because I’ve had them before but I think it’s doing the same thing every day that I can’t stand. I like the unknown, and being totally spontaneous and a case could come up and I have to be somewhere in two hours and I have no idea what’s going on I just find out when I get there.
What types of investigations come your way, what do people come to a private investigator for?
Anything and everything. We don’t really do adultery cases. Both of my bosses, in LA and Hawaii, don’t really bother with that, which I’m glad because I don’t really care about that stuff. I don’t want to be doing that unless it involves the military because then that’s a big deal, so I’ve done surveillance on that.
I’ve gone to jail with information that incarcerates someone in a neurotics case. We did counter surveillance on a woman who thought someone was following her and hearing voices…we didn’t end up taking her money because we realized she was mentally ill.
I worked undercover for about two months at a food establishment because we were investigating the owners. I’ve done bug sweeps, workmen’s comp surveillance, background checks… I’ve gone door to door with a fake lost dog to try to find out if someone’s there. Yeah it’s always different, never really the same thing.
Is it mostly private individuals that come to private investigators or do you get a lot of companies as well?
Yeah we get a lot of insurance companies that come to us. It could be the state that hires us — a lot of the time in California it’s through the state; there’s been some congress people we’ve investigated, but it totally depends …
What’s an average day for you?
It’ll depend. I’ll either be on call or I’ll have set days to come in. Or a case will come up last minute and I’ll just get a call that’s like ‘can you do this?’
It’s just always being on your feet. I’ve never known something too far in advance that was going to happen, maybe five day at the most. But I love that though, I’m addicted to that kind of life.
It seems very 24/7. Do you find that challenging?
It doesn’t give me much of a social life, but I don’t mind it. When people are like ‘what are you doing next week so we can plan something?’ I’m like ‘honestly I have no idea, I could be God knows where.’
Have you ever been put in a situation that you found yourself totally caught off guard in? How did you handle it?
During an undercover job I had to use a different name but I almost used my real name when I started getting comfortable with the people. They never found out, but I think the hard part was actually liking the people that I was investigating. There’s a quote, to find out how to destroy someone you must understand them and when you understand them you love them, something like that.
I found myself in that situation and I felt so guilty even though I knew there was proof that they were not operating truthfully, but still they took me in like family so it was hard to just walk away from that at the end of the day.
Serving subpoenas sometimes is dangerous. I had to go into a massage parlor and give a subpoena and if they get mad it’s tough because you’re just the messenger going in there. But this guy cornered me in this dark room and I just bolted out. But I mostly try to put myself in safe situations.
How do you manage undercover work with your personal relationships?
I’ll accidentally use my fake name in my personal life, sometimes I forget that I can use my real name! I try to keep it seperate and I don’t actually really talk about it a lot.
What do you find the most fulfilling about your work?
When you’re on a case where you’re actually helping someone who’s in the right, because it’s hard when you’re doing something where you know the person that you’re working for is guilty. That’s probably the toughest thing, so what’s most rewarding is when someone actually hugs you and thanks you for your work. You don’t really work with these people or anything, you’re doing a job for them, but when they’re really happy with what you accomplished and it helps to better their life, that’s really rewarding.
What is your dream for your career? Where would you like to go from here?
I want too many things in life. I have to hone in on what I want because writing is something that is my constant that I have. I’ve always felt like I need a creative outlet.
Maybe I’ll go to school one day for criminal justice and do something bigger than investigation. I’m still so fascinated with criminal justice anything. I used to want to be in the FBI, I don’t know if I’ll run out of time for that but maybe…