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4 min read

How Long Does A Background Check Take?

How Long Does A Background Check Take

Obtaining a background check is often a trade-off between “I want it done now” and “I want it done right.”

Savvy employers know running background checks on potential employees is an integral part of the hiring process. A thorough and legally complaint pre-employment background screening program helps hiring managers get the right people in the right seats going in the right direction, and can help protect an organization from bad press and litigation related to negligent hiring claims.

With unemployment rates at historical lows, the labor pool for employers to choose from is growing smaller and smaller. Decreasing time-to-hire has become of paramount importance for organizations looking to attract top talent. Possibly the most time-consuming part of the hiring process is waiting on a candidate's background check to be completed so an offer of employment can either be made or not, depending on the results.

Sometimes, a background screening report seems to take an excruciatingly long time to be completed and returned to the requester. But, why do some checks take longer than others? Let's dive into what's going on behind the scenes of a background check and discover some speed bumps that might slow down the process.


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So how long does a pre-employment background check actually take?

Depending on the types of information needed and the services ordered, a background check can take anywhere from a few minutes to one week. On average, a pre-employment background check takes 2 to 4 days to complete but can move faster or slower for various reasons, including:

  • Technical delays, including difficulty finding records, computer problems, or documents with typos, spelling errors, or incomplete info.
  • Review delays. Some sources, such as past employers or public agencies, may only have a few computers or a few employees and a backlog of requests for similar information.


Possible Reasons For Delays in a Background Check

Part of the reason for the variance in turnaround times is that there are many different types of background checks, each with their own potential roadblocks that might increase the time it takes to receive a completed report. Some you’re likely to need include:

  1. Criminal Records Checks get info about past charges, convictions, or warrants from public record searches or private databases. Some states don’t disclose information about charges not resulting in convictions or anything older than seven years. These checks generally take between 1 and 2 days, though different law enforcement agencies may have different systems and may need between a few days to a month for a detailed check.
  2. Identity Verification. Scanning a license, Social Security card, or other official ID and verifying the information with local databases can usually be done very quickly. Searching national databases may take a few days or even a month based on which databases are used and how far back the search goes.
  3. International Background Checks. The experience and activities of a candidate who has lived and worked in another country are often relevant to U.S. employers. When an international background check is ordered, a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) like AccuSourceHR needs to contact each foreign country the candidate has lived in and each foreign business the candidate has worked in to discover any relevant information. Times may vary depending on a country’s openness, its archives, and its relationship with the U.S. International background checks can take up to twice as long the domestic versions – four to six days instead of two to three.
  4. Employment Verification. This shows if an applicant's job history matches the information they have given interviewers. This process requires contacting past employers and can take roughly three days, perhaps longer if incomplete or poor paperwork is provided, or if a past employer requires more documentation to release past work records.
  5. Academic Verification. Employers want to know if a candidate’s educational background is a fit for the position. This can be done by checking with various schools, which may all have different archiving systems and staff available to assist. Time of year can affect the lead times on education verification as many institutions have a smaller staff in the summer months.
  6. Professional Qualifications. This service verifies that someone possesses licenses or certifications for professions/associations such as architects, attorneys, or physicians. Delays beyond one or two days could be due to a candidate using different names for these credentials.
  7. Global Terror Watch List. Formerly known as the Terrorist Search List, this database indicates if someone has been flagged as a national security threat or an otherwise dangerous individual. Checking can be done in a day or so by government agencies, but there may be separate lists from different agencies and inconsistencies across different databases may extend turnaround time.
  8. Motor Vehicle Records searches reveal information about a person's driving record and license status, including fines or violations over the last 3 to 10 years. Each state’s motor vehicle department may vary on how quickly they return results, though the time frame is usually 3 to 7 days. Delays can be based on different computer systems, incomplete data, or name variations.
  9. Tenant History. Discover possible housing delinquencies like evictions, late payments, or related problems over the past 7 to 10 years. Credit bureaus can provide these, but may be delayed because of incorrect or incomplete data. Reports can be generated within an hour or up to a few days.
  10. Citizenship Status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services performs financial, criminal, and security checks and takes fingerprints when someone applies for naturalization prior to an interview. Applications are valid for 15 months. Delays can happen if the applicant does not showing up for fingerprinting. No official time estimates are given but these checks can take up to 4 business days.
  11. Social Media Profiles Screenings. Personal social media pages can provide details about someone’s conduct, political views, and interests. What can be seen is limited by what the applicant makes public. Authorized social media background checks can take between 3 and 5 days.
  12. Credit Checks. Credit bureaus can confirm that a candidate has a financial paper trail including any major actions against them. While some specific financial details aren’t available to third parties without permission, investigators can assess basic financial stability in 1 to 2 days.


Turnaround Times: Is It Worth The Wait?

Of course anything worth having is worth waiting for. Sometimes it can take only a few minutes to verify someone’s identity, and sometimes it can take a few weeks for a detailed portfolio on a senior-level candidate. Skipping an accurate background check and ‘going with your gut’ increases the possibility of future unpleasant surprises and even possible damage to your organization's reputation or exposure to litigation.

To speed up the turnaround time of a comprehensive background check for employment companies and applicants alike should make sure all submitted information is accurate and complete, and be honest and cooperative with anyone assisting in gathering this info. Following these guidelines will help reduce the length of time the background check process takes.


AccuSourceHR is proud to be a leader in the industry in overall turnaround times for employment background screening services, consistently delivering highly accurate results in under 48 hours. Contact us today to find out how we can help streamline your organization's background screening process.


Learn more about our industry-leading turnaround times


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