Entering the job market out of college can be fraught – and require some creative gumption.
Consider Andrew: a friendly, lanky 23-year-old who graduated from Elms College last May.
Andrew has been my neighbor for more than a decade. He was the kind, older kid at the bus stop when my own children were in kindergarten. So when I ran into him last fall, I had to wrap my ahead around the new job he’d taken.
Andrew is a private eye – well, officially, “private investigator,” but who can resist a little noir embellishment?
In keeping with the mystique, I agreed not to use his last name, since his boss, who holds the PI license, didn’t know he invited me on a recent stakeout.
‘I Watched Too Many Spy Movies When I Was A Kid”
After he picked me up in his SUV, Andrew showed me a blurry photo of the night’s target. “He’s pretty tall, we can’t really miss him, he’s six-five.”
We proceeded to drive around Springfield, hoping to find and follow a man who claimed he hurt his lower back at his job. Andrew’s company was hired to confirm the man is actually injured – and if not, to get photographic proof for the insurer.
We start at the man’s official home address.
“There’s clearly nobody there,” Andrew said. “There’s no lights on. The driveway is not even shoveled.”
Andrew studied sports management in college, but couldn’t find a related job. He drove an Uber for a few months, until he learned several classmates had started working as private investigators. Training was quick, it paid $15 an hour plus expenses. And it sounded fun.
“I watched too many spy movies when I was a kid,” said Andrew. He remembers thinking to himself, “‘This is so cool. I can be like James Bond.'”
‘They Don’t Want To Sit At A Desk All Day’
Andrew is not alone. Private investigation used to be the domain of grizzled, retired cops looking to stay busy in their twilight years, but industry leaders say more and more millennials are discovering the field.
“They don’t want to sit at a desk all day,” said Bill Connors, president of Licensed Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts. Connors, who runs a PI firm south of Boston, said he’s one of about 850 licensed private investigators in the state.
Connors said he seeks out young people for his company, now that more colleges have launched professional tracks in private investigation. He said twenty-somethings bring new ideas and a familiarity with social media that many old-timers don’t have.
“The one guy I’m thinking of is like, ‘Oh, that’s just too complicated for me,'” Connors said. “Well, some of your best investigative leads and information come from Facebook or a tweet or whatever.”
Andrew still does a lot of classic gumshoe work, though, including long surveillance shifts like this one. He’s got trail mix in the car, a “change of clothes, hats, a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.”
And he’s wearing slippers to be more comfortable. “I mean, I have shoes if I need [them],” he said.
‘I Do A Lot Of Crosswords’
Most of Andrew’s work is insurance fraud; the cheating spouse beat is reserved for more senior investigators, he said, since those cases can get heated.
By that point, our stakeout was pretty tame. We moved on to a banquet hall where Andrew was told his mark might be attending an office party.
As we drove around the parking lot, he stopped in front of a silver car that matched the description and license plate of his target. “I’m sure he’s somewhere inside,” Andrew said.
After checking that there is only one way to get out of the parking lot, he decided to park behind another car. None of the guests seemed to notice us. So we waited.
“I do a lot of crosswords,” Andrew said.
To speed things along, Andrew considered posing as someone looking for his grandfather at the party — another reason young PIs can be an asset.
When You Catch Your Target, ‘Everyone’s Happy — Except For Them’
“One thing this business needs is younger people to work undercover,” said former police detective Roger Torgerson, president of the U.S. Association of Professional Investigators.
“If you looked at me, one of the first things you would think of is: either you’re a police officer or you used to be one,” Torgerson said, pointing out there’s a certain look that can give away the veteran PI.
“There’s a lot of times you need to overhear conversations and get into meetings and things like that,” he said. “And you need those people that, when you look at them, the last thing in the world you think of is, they’re an investigator and working undercover.”
Andrew said he’s managed to stay undetected following people into movies, playing mini-golf and working out at the gym. When he’s lucky, he said, “you catch someone doing something they’re not supposed to do and you did a good job. And everyone’s happy — except for them.”
This was not one of those cases. By 10 p.m., everyone appeared to have left the party, but the target’s car was still in the parking lot.
We eventually gave up, and the next day, Andrew was on a new case. He’s still sending his resume to sports management companies – but for now, he’s enjoying his role as a millennial Magnum PI.