Mastering 12 Essential Investigative Skills: Tips for Improvement

Updated 18 September 2023

Investigative abilities help professionals collect relevant data and derive conclusions. It is useful to highlight these skills on resumes or cover letters, as they are useful in a wide variety of fields. Developing these skills can enhance your ability to both gather and analyse information for employers. In this article, we discuss investigative skills, list some of these traits and provide tips to improve them.

What Are Investigative Skills?

Investigative skills refer to an individual's ability to gather information and draw inferences from them. These skills help professionals examine a topic closely and discover items of importance that may not have been apparent to those who lack these skills. Some professionals who often use these skills include:

  • Private Investigators

  • Forensic Scientists

  • Anthropologists

  • Art Historians

  • Investigative Journalists

  • Archaeologists

  • Police Officers

  • Legal Investigators

  • Detectives

12 Skills essential for investigative professions

Here is a list of 12 skills that can help investigative professionals perform their tasks effectively:

1. Curiosity

Having curiosity, which involves asking questions to discover the reasons for the occurrence of a particular event, is a valuable skill when conducting investigations. This skill entails the desire to learn more about the subject or issue. Curiosity can help identify new avenues and sources to retrieve information when there is not enough information to pursue an investigation.

2. Problem-solving

Being a problem solver helps investigators compile the information they gather. A majority of investigation work involves solving a case or attempting to understand an occurrence further, making it important for these professionals to determine ways to consider the series of events. Effective investigators evaluate their data to gather conclusions that guide them on how to best progress with a situation.

3. Research skills

When investigating, it is often helpful to know how to collect relevant information from a variety of sources and interpret it. Investigators often analyse background information about particular subject matters to comprehend a situation fully. For instance, a legal investigator may research the background of perpetrators from official records and previous accomplices to learn about their criminal history and other important facts.

4. Evidence collection

Evidence collection is the ability to find relevant facts, such as clues in a crime scene, that can help investigators understand why something may have occurred and verify a certain assumption. Often, investigators collect evidence by conducting experiments or visiting and analysing a crime scene. When collecting evidence, it is often important for investigators to adhere to common legal procedures.

5. Interviewing

Talking to suspects or other people critical to the case is an important part of the investigation process. Interviewing skills are essential to interrogate persons who are a matter of concern and gather useful information from them. Knowing how to interrogate criminals can help investigators find out important answers about a crime scene or incident. Investigators with interviewing skills know what are the right questions to ask and how to ask them to elicit helpful information.

6. Report writing

Knowledge of how to prepare a report allows investigators to organise and document the investigation process and information properly and submit their findings. It is important for these professionals to ensure clarity so that readers understand their reports. They also include supporting evidence to verify findings and may present these findings to a court that uses these written pieces to convict or acquit an individual.

7. Critical thinking

Investigators work on a wide variety of cases. They check the scene of the crime, look for clues, interview suspects and make an informed inference. All of this requires careful evaluation and critical analysis of the information available. Critical thinking is also useful in situations when you have every information and all you need is to connect them to arrive at the conclusion.

Related: Critical Thinking Skills: Definitions And Examples

8. Honesty

Honesty is an important investigative skill, as investigators perform covert operations, manage large volumes of confidential data and handle evidence. It is important that they handle these with honesty, professionalism and without bias. Being honest and ethical also helps to build an excellent reputation and ensures the best possible services for clients.

9. Flexibility

The approach to an investigation may change as investigators and other officials progress into the case and gather new information. This may require abandoning a previous idea and rethinking the event and the incidents involved. To accept changing circumstances, it is essential that investigators are flexible and willing to adapt themselves to new and unexpected situations. Investigators may also require handling different tools and technologies, acquiring the willingness to learn or try new things that are useful.

10. Observation

Another skill necessary to be an investigator is to be attentive to one's surroundings. Whether you are observing a suspect, a scene of a crime or a place of interest, your observation skills can help you gather information and infer conclusions faster. Being observant can help to evaluate even the smallest details of the scene. Investigators also use their observation skills to assess whether an individual is truthful by studying their mannerisms and body language.

11. Courage

In certain cases, investigators may face challenging or even life-threatening situations. This involves interviewing criminals, sometimes travelling to unsafe locations and meeting strangers to collect information. Performing these tasks requires courage and the willingness to find information and succeed. It is important that investigators prepare for different situations and can work under any circumstance effectively to solve crimes successfully.

12. Self-motivated

Investigations may take time. Some may last a few weeks, while others may go on for months. As an investigator, it is important that you persevere in your tasks to research and solve cases despite delays or other hindrances. Being focused on the goal can help you overcome setbacks or other challenges and solve the case subsequently. Even when the pace of the investigation is slow, you can boost yourself by going through the details of the case once again or reflecting on previous victories and achievements.

Related: What Is Self Motivation? And How To Use It To Meet Your Goals

Tips to improve your investigative skills

These are some ways in which you can improve your skills for a successful investigative career:

Check with multiple sources

A good investigator seeks reliable information to base their conclusions. Avoid concluding based on a single source of information. Instead, gather information from as many sources or witnesses as you can to substantiate your claims. Having multiple sources who support your claims allows you to defend your findings effectively. You can also be more self-assured since you have many witnesses supporting the same fact. Attempting to find multiple sources also strengthens your research skills.

Maintain neutrality

To excel as an investigator, it is essential that you separate your professional life from your personal biases. Maintain a neutral stance while working on a case. This helps to create a positive impression on clients while forming successful interpersonal relationships, besides enhancing your reputation as an investigative professional. An impartial attitude and a respectful work culture help communicate with different people effectively and minimise potential conflicts.

Practice interviewing

A major part of an investigator's role is interviewing victims, perpetrators and witnesses. To improve interviewing and evidence collection skills, you can get formal training on how to frame your questions to get the answers you want. You may also observe seniors to learn the different tactics used during interviews. As interviewing requires confidence, ensure you are aware of the information you seek and prepare accordingly so that you do not falter while asking questions.

Know the law

While working in the investigative profession, you may face unlawful incidents. To protect yourself, it is important that you know self-defence techniques like martial arts. Being aware of the criminal laws is also essential. For instance, you can prepare a substantial case if you know the kind of evidence against a criminal that can help you issue a warrant against them in court. Failure to follow the law may lead to the dismissal of charges against the perpetrator and blemish your reputation.

As investigative professionals can also require testifying in a court case, pursuing a degree in criminal law or forensic science to learn these competencies can be helpful. Several higher educational institutions also offer diplomas or certifications in criminal studies and investigative science.

Strengthen your people skills

Investigation involves interacting with a wide variety of individuals, including suspects, witnesses, law enforcement and other agencies. Having good people skills can help you communicate efficiently and get the right information to solve a case. Ensure you are polite and professional and try to put people at ease so that they are comfortable interacting and sharing information with you.

Related: Social Skills: Definition, Examples And Why They Are Important

Acquire technical knowledge

You may require technology to track suspects, analyse information and create reports. For instance, you may check CCTV footage to identify criminals or work with laboratory technicians to match specimens like blood, hair or saliva. To execute these tasks, it is useful to know how to operate surveillance equipment, devices like GPS trackers, cameras and audio equipments.

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