What are the qualifications for a detective? (With skills)

Updated 13 April 2023

Being a detective is an intense job that requires a specific set of skills. Detectives typically work within the police force or for private clients and usually have a wide range of experience solving crimes. If a career as a detective interests you, ensuring you have the correct education and training can help you become more confident and successful in pursuing this role. In this article, we discuss the role of a detective, explain the requirements of the job and list the steps you may take to become a detective.

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What is a detective?

Detectives investigate crimes and try to solve them as quickly and efficiently as possible. Detectives often use the latest technology and scientific techniques to examine crime scenes and search for evidence. They may also complete in-person practical work such as interviewing suspects and witnesses.

Detectives usually work within the police force but some choose to work independently as a detective for private clients. Private detectives don't have any legal authority, which can make their work more challenging since they don't have access to the same resources as detectives working in the public sector.

What are the qualifications for a detective?

Qualifications for a detective vary as there are multiple routes to the role. Some police officers work their way up through the police force to a role as a detective. Other candidates focus on building their education before applying for entry detective roles. Below is some further information on becoming a detective:

Training through the police force

Many constabularies offer detective entry programmes for individuals working as police officers. It's not mandatory to be a police officer prior to becoming a detective but many find it to be beneficial. Individuals who serve in the military may also obtain eligibility for a detective training programme at a constabulary. The course typically lasts two years.

Related: A guide to 14 different jobs within the police force


The alternative route to training through the police force is pursuing further education. For most detective roles, it's a requirement to have a 2:1 university degree as a minimum. To earn a degree, the standard route to follow is to achieve your GCSEs and then move on to the relevant A Levels to the degree you plan to pursue. You could also choose a college course that links to the degree to gain admission to a university. There isn't a specific degree for detectives, but employers consider many degrees to be relevant to police and detective work, including:

  • Criminology: Criminology is the scientific study of crime. Completing a degree in criminology includes learning about relevant topics, like an introduction to fieldwork, research and criminal justice.

  • History: As history is an essay-based subject that requires a lot of research, it may be a useful degree for an aspiring detective to pursue.

  • Psychology A psychology degree includes learning about research and theories about the mind and behaviour. This can help you to understand the actions of suspects and may assist you in catching them.

Related: How to become a detective without being a police officer


After completing a degree, candidates who don't wish to work their way through the police system may apply for the Police Now National Detective Programme. The programme is two years long and includes an intensive 12-week residential training course in addition to both fieldwork and in-classroom training. The course helps people develop their detective work skills and experience.

Related: How to become a police officer in the UK

What are the duties of a detective?

There is a range of duties that a detective may carry out. Detectives may work on multiple cases at one time or complete admin work in between cases. Some of the duties of a detective include:

  • providing support to victims during investigations

  • creating evidence reports to ensure claims made during an investigation have support

  • utilising resources to manage and execute an investigation

  • collecting and collating evidence from a range of sources, such as CCTV and witness statements

  • using legal powers, if applicable, to arrest suspects

  • following the correct procedures to ensure any evidence or arrests are admissible in court

  • using critical and lateral thinking to solve cases

  • researching the criminal history of suspects to find patterns

  • arranging surveillance for suspects or individuals in protection

Related: What does a detective do? (With career and skill info)

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What skills benefit a detective?

Detectives may use a range of skills on a daily basis to manage and support criminal investigations. If you learn these skills early in your career, you may practice them prior to applying for a detective role. Some skills that benefit a detective include:

Creative thinking

Being a detective means you may face volatile or rapidly-changing situations. A detective benefits from being able to think quickly and creatively to adapt to new information and developments. The ability to think creatively may also help detectives spot patterns and evidence other police officers may miss.


The role of a detective primarily revolves around solving mysteries and crimes. Problem-solving skills help detectives to find answers and solutions to cases, ensuring all questions in a case are resolved. On occasions when a case expires or has no credible leads, a detective may think of the best way to provide support for the victim if they can't deliver justice officially.

Critical thinking

To work out how a series of events connect to each other and establish who the perpetrator of a crime is, it's beneficial if a detective is able to think as the suspect would. Critical thinking is key to working out what happened during a crime, such as where a criminal may be hiding. Some crimes are sensitive or disturbing in nature, so most detectives train in separating their emotional and critical thinking.


Although it's advisable for a detective to be able to control their emotional thoughts, it's still beneficial for a detective to have empathy. Empathy allows a detective to understand the needs and motives of victims, witnesses and even suspects. Empathetic thoughts may also allow detectives to connect with their colleagues, which aids team-building.

Physical fitness

To become a detective, a basic level of fitness is required. One of the more standard requirements is that you can reach at least a level 5.4 on the bleep test. This is the equivalent of three minutes and forty seconds of running and proves that you're suitable for the role. Physical fitness is valuable to detectives as it ensures they're comfortable on their feet for long periods of time and may run after suspects if a chase ensues.

Oral and written communication

As detectives conduct interviews with a range of people including witnesses and suspects, having strong oral communication can build trust and rapport. Written communication also assists a detective to write reports about cases that are clear and coherent. When conducting oral interviews, a detective may speak with someone who is purposefully withholding information or giving false information, so patience is an aspect of interpersonal communication that can benefit you.


Detectives typically have a lot of responsibility and power. A verdict can only take place successfully when both detectives and the police force follow all legal rules and guidelines. When a detective is comfortable with the code of ethics to follow and has a clear understanding of right and wrong, the community can trust the agency better. For example, if a detective forces entry into a building without a warrant, a judge may exclude all the evidence in the building from the court case.


When a detective has a passion for their community, they can build a strong reputation. This ensures they want the best for their local area and try to keep citizens safe. This may also inspire them to support local initiatives, such as youth groups, and speak to young adults about the importance of avoiding criminal activity.


Detectives may lead an investigation and have the responsibility of managing a team or task force. A detective with strong leadership skills can earn more respect from their team and colleagues. When a detective's team considers them an effective leader, the whole agency can collaborate more effectively to solve crimes.

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