As Sherlock’s hyper intelligence, and Watson’s weary loyalty, hit our screens once again (SHUSH I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT YET DON’T RUIN ANYTHING) we find out what it takes to be a real Sherlock Holmes. Sort of. Look, he’s the world’s only consulting detective which means that you’d have to be more clever and more observant than him in order to take over his position, and that’s unlikely, so the next best thing is to become a private investigator.  It’s the same sort of thing, as well as being an actual job rather than a fictional one written by a man in the 19th century.  

What IS a private investigator/Sherlock-job?

If you’re good at Facebook stalking, twitter-lurking or internet research, then private investigating really isn’t much different. Except, of course, the people, information and places are a little harder to find than your average Google sesh. When you’re a P.I., companies and clients will hire you out to find missing people, run background checks on dodgy employees and investigate fraud or piracy.

Long gone are the days when a P.I. would spend hours at libraries or sifting through files and folders; now, if you’ve got a laptop and an iPhone you’re halfway there. Surveillance – i.e. watching, waiting and keeping tabs on people – is a big part of the job too so be prepared for some following, disguise-donning and zoom lens usage (on your iPhone camera). As well as sitting in cars for ages and Googling lots.

In a nutshell, a private investigator’s job is pretty much the same as Sherlock’s: to collect proof, whether it be catching a criminal in an unsolved case or working out if Jim’s wife is cheating on him. This can be done through people contacting you and hiring you out or working for a P.I. company that give you various cases to work on.

Do I have to be a genius?

No, not really – if you’re a History student and love digging up facts or just someone with a keen sense of observation and a love of problem-solving, you could make a great P.I.

It’s all about the research, patience and quick-thinking; didn’t find what you were looking for the first, second or third time? Keep going until you do. No fancy degree can teach you how to be observant, and Sherlock never gives up because he’s bored – there’s always another avenue, another angle to check, another way to get the info he needs. Also, this probably isn’t a job for someone who a) can’t stand working alone or b) gets restless easily. There’s a lot of waiting, a lot of time spent operating alone and when you’re watching someone under surveillance, there aren’t many opportunities for breaks. Or playing Temple Run.

Usually a P.I. will specialise in a certain area – for example, missing people or corporate fraud – with all their work revolving around this. There are a range of different licenses for different activities but, before you start jumping the gun, it’s best to get a bit of experience so you can decide where your talents really lie. Who knows – maybe you’ll be the best online surveillance person ever to walk the planet. Or the best at hiding in bushes.

How do I become Sherlock?

You may not have a CV stretching back to 1887 so, sadly, you’re going to have to do this the normal way- either become a policeman, get mentored by a good investigator (this is obviously easier to do when after you’ve become a policeman and found some good contacts) or do a course recognised by the Security Industry Authority (SIA). At the moment, you don’t technically need a license to be a P.I. in the UK, but all this is set to change very soon so, if you want good work then you’ll want to have a good qualification. Otherwise you’re just a weird loner, in a flat, solving crimes for fun. Which is exactly what Sherlock does but he’s got Martin Freeman for a friend, and that guy has all sorts of great professional connections. He’s in The Hobbit for god’s sake.

In terms of courses, there are shedloads, so you’ll have to do some research into which one works for you but the Academy of Professional Investigation is a good place to start. If you’re looking to go solo, then of course you’ll need to set up and run your own business, which requires a whole other range of skillsets. We can’t all have a Watson looking after us…  

If you liked this article, why not take a look at..