In case you missed my first year as an investigator, it can be found here. I’m writing this to give some insight on the experience I’ve had working as a background investigator, so hopefully it’s helpful to those who are interested in this line of work. Sorry in advance if my writing is all over the place.
This last year has been a complete blur. For the most part, I was TDY (temporary duty yonder) for almost half the year, mainly between California and Colorado. I’ve been back home for a couple months now which is good because being away from family so much was starting to take a toll. Either way it was an interesting experience, got to meet a lot of interesting people, and I even got to see old friends from the military while I was on these trips.
Since my last post, I definitely feel like I’ve improved in my role substantially and I’m operating at a great level of efficiency. I’ve got my schedule down pat and I usually cram as much field work into two days as possible, enough to meet or surpass my metrics, and then that leaves me with 3 days throughout the week where I potentially don’t even have to leave my house unless I want to run to the court house or police station for a record and some extra points on my metrics. After I get my fieldwork completed over a 2 day period (sometimes 3), I always have plenty of time to type my reports and start scheduling stuff for the next week. This has been working well for me. Some investigators do things different and they’ll have meeting scheduled every morning which leaves their afternoons free to be home and type/schedule. It’s up to you to find your groove.
That’s one of the beautiful things about this job, your manager really doesn’t give a crap when you work, as long as you’re hitting your numbers.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR CAR
One year ago, I purchased my first brand new car and drove it off the lot with 0 miles on it. Flash forward to now and I already have 19,000 miles on it. Did I also mention that I was gone for almost half the year and not even using the car while I was TDY? Yeah, this job will be hell on your car. Yes, we get reimbursed for mileage, but needing an oil change every 1.5 months is still annoying. You definitely have to show your car some extra love when you’re in this position.
Always be prepared for a change of plans
There will be times where the stars have aligned and you’ll have a case where you’ve been able to get all your meetings scheduled with little to no effort. You call your subject, set up a meeting with them, and tell them you also need to interview their supervisor and co-worker, can they set that up? They say “Sure! Not a problem!”. On the day of the meeting, you’ll drive 30 mins to conduct the ESI (enhanced subject interview), expecting that things will go smoothly and you’ll be able to interview a supervisor and co-worker, which will pretty much wrap up what you’ve been assigned on the case.
However, you will arrive to your meeting and find that the supervisor has called in sick or had an unexpected event or meeting come up, and the only co-worker available has only worked there for a month or two and can’t provide the coverage you need. There goes your perfectly laid plan and now you’re going to have make a second trip out there to interview the supervisor whenever they’re available. It doesn’t happen often, but it definitely will happen, and you can always use that extra time to your advantage to take a nap in your car be productive before your next meeting.
Constantly changing management
I’m on my 4th supervisor since I’ve started this position, so that’s basically 2 different ones per year. My current manager is really good and communicative, but I’m trying not to get too attached because I’ll probably have a different one by the end of the year
2019 was a pretty hectic year for this industry and I lost a lot of great co-workers to The Layoff. Other companies suffered massive losses as well and it just wasn’t a good time to be a BI, (probably still isn’t) and that was only a couple of months ago. With DCSA in full effect, things seem to be smoothing out a little and I’m back to having a huge amount of work.
Who this job is for
This job is not for those who can’t take initiative. You have to be willing to pick up that phone and start calling people and getting those meetings scheduled. You have to be on time to your meetings and you have to be professional and polite enough to make your grandmother burst with tears of joy about how well you were raised. Don’t be sloppy and don’t be rude. The people you have interviewed WILL be recontacted again to determine if you conducted yourself accordingly.
This job is for people who can work on their own without someone holding their hand.
It’s for people who are fine with being alone week after week, day after day. Most of the people you interview are just a blip among the sea of others you have interviewed. They will forget about you just as quickly as you forget them.
Occasionally I meet with other investigators in my area for lunch but that’s only about once every 2 months. I used to work in a machine shop in the firearms industry and there was no shortage of crap talking each other and having some great laughs during our 10 - 12 hour shifts. Aside from missing that camraderie, I quite enjoy being alone in my car zipping around the county and practicing my Spanish with some audio courses.
I’ll admit that there are some days where it’s hard to want to work, especially if I don’t have any meetings scheduled and I just need to type, it’s just too easy to go back to bed or do something else when your schedule is pretty open.
Depending on where you go, if it’s it a contractor or federal facility, people will treat you super respectfully for the mere fact that you’re an investigator and a lot of times they won’t even think twice about letting you into a secured area that you’re probably not supposed to be in. If something like that happens, make sure you politely ask about the proper protocol for entering the area, such as where to sign in and which lock box to stash your phone in. I’ve found that if you don’t ask these things people will literally let you go wherever because they think your badge trumps protocol and they’re trying to help you get to who you need to see or where you need to go.
Cover your ass
I think I stated in my other post the importance of good note taking. Seriously. Take good notes and cover your ass. Any time I make a phone call, I’ve got the date, time, number I called, who I spoke with, what we spoke about, and I do that for every single call on every single case. I have 100% confidence you can match my notes up perfectly with my call log. Sometimes you will be trying to contact a source and you’ll call a couple times and leave messages, send an e-mail or two, and still get no response.
At that point you’re required to make an in person attempt to whatever last known address you have for them. If you go there and they don’t answer, you have to leave a card or door tag. Whenever that happens, make sure you’re documenting things in the neighborhood that stand out, so if someone follows behind in your footsteps, they can see without a doubt that you were actually in the neighborhood.
I can’t overstate the important’s of having good notes enough, and it will save you a lot of headache. If you can’t get a hold of a person, then at least you can show that you’ve exhausted every reasonable effort. I feel like this is something they didn’t hit on enough in training.
If you still want to get into this field after reading this post and the other one, I’d say go for it if you can find an opportunity near you. Nowadays companies aren’t really hiring at the moment. I was lucky and got hired on during The Great Hiring Surge of 2017 and so far it’s been a great experience. Not every day has been perfect and stress free, but I’ve never felt overworked and over-stressed as some reviews would indicate. A lot of reviews I read for this position told me to run faraway and I didn’t listen, and I’m glad I didn’t.
On a side note, I don’t plan on doing this forever as a contractor. If I can get into a federal position, then yeah I can see myself knocking out 20 years no problem. Right now I’m making plans to get into the IT and Cyber security field and currently working through courses to obtain the appropriate certifications to break into the field.