Whether sitting in the employer’s chair or applying for jobs, you’re probably curious about how long employee background checks take. If you want to fill a position, you might be on a tight schedule and pressured for a quick turnaround. If you’re a job applicant, you probably just want to know when you can expect to hear the final word from a prospective employer. Either way, the answer is the same: it depends on the type of background check.

Turnaround Time for Employment Background Checks

The average pre-employment background check is a combination of multiple types of checks. In that sense, the term “employment background check” is a misnomer because it suggests that an employer can find all they need to know by searching a single database.

In truth, employment pre-screening can incorporate everything from criminal records checks to resumé details and civil court documents. That makes answering the question, “How long does a background check take?” much more complex.

Turnaround Time for Criminal Background Checks

A criminal background search is the most common type of pre-employment background review, so when people ask how long background checks take, they often refer to criminal checks.

The answer depends on:

  1. How many steps are involved with the criminal check?
  2. Which criminal record reports the employer orders.
  3. Whether the process involves international searches.

At backgroundchecks.com, searches of our proprietary multi-jurisdictional database, US OneSEARCH, can return results instantly. For information outside our database, we can typically return reports in 1-3 business days. This timeframe applies to county, state, and federal-level criminal searches. State-level criminal checks see the most variation—some states process background checks in one business day, while others take several weeks.

Adding extra steps to the criminal vetting process also makes it more time-consuming. For instance, some employers prefer doing alias- and address history searches before ordering criminal reports. These details help them decide which states or counties to target with their checks. At backgroundchecks.com, we offer instant searches for identities and addresses called US AliasSEARCH and US OneTRACE.

The biggest wildcard for criminal check turnaround time is international status. If the employer needs to conduct international criminal history checks, you can expect two or three weeks to be added to the timeframe.

Turnaround Times for Other Types of Background Checks

For employment background checks that incorporate searches beyond criminal records, there can be even more variation in the time it takes to complete the checks. Below, we list other customary checks in the employment screening process and their turnaround times.

Driving record checks

Our estimate for a motor vehicle report at backgroundchecks.com is 1-3 business days. However, the timeframe depends on the state, given that all DMVs process driving records slightly differently. Sometimes, the process may take a few weeks.

Credit history checks

In most cases, the credit checks results are instant. However, companies must apply as end users of “Consumer Credit Reports for Employment Purposes, Tenant Screening or Franchise Screening” before they can legally do a credit check. The application and approval process can add up to 14 days to the wait time.

Civil court searches

The wait time for accessing public records from courts depends on whether it’s at the county or federal level. At backgroundchecks.com, we can process civil court checks in 5-7 days. Federal courts are faster, with a typical turnaround time of 1-2 days.

Background Checks for Federal Employment

Before beginning work with the federal government – even in a contracting position – applicants must pass a federal employment background check. The background check process ensures that each candidate is “reliable, trustworthy, of sound moral character, and committed to the United States.” How long does a federal background check take? The timeframe depends on the level of consent required for the position.

You may need a security clearance if the job requires you to access sensitive or confidential information. Getting security clearance increases the background check turnaround time significantly because it involves conducting interviews with the candidate’s acquaintances.

Federal security clearances include Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret classifications. Background checks in the first two categories typically take one to three months. Top Secret background checks are more thorough and frequently take twice as long.

Top Secret background checks can take four to eight months but have been known to take up to a year in certain circumstances, for example, if you have:

  • lived or worked abroad
  • traveled extensively outside the country
  • have relatives who are foreign nationals or have spent significant time outside the country.

The federal government has historically struggled with significant background check backlogs, creating additional wait times.

Verification checks

Employment verifications verify the details a job seeker presents on their employment application or resumé. They may include the following:

  • Employment history (including past jobs held, job titles, responsibilities, employment dates, and reasons for leaving)
  • Educational records (including colleges or universities attended, graduation status, degrees earned, and more)
  • References (where employers call the contacts on a candidate’s “professional references” list to learn more about character, work ethic, and other qualities)
  • Professional licenses (where employers ensure that the professional licenses or certifications claimed or presented by a job candidate – such as a teaching license or a license to practice medicine – are genuine and in good standing)

Employment verification checks usually have a 2-3 day turnaround time. However, they can take longer if contacting previous employers and other references proves difficult.

Bankruptcy checks

The information should be recorded in U.S. bankruptcy court if a person has filed for bankruptcy. A search of these court files typically takes 1-2 days.

Identity checks

As mentioned, backgroundchecks.com offers identity/alias checks and address history checks to help employers ensure they vet candidates on accurate information. These checks require the candidate to provide their Social Security Number, which should be linked with their known aliases (including maiden names) and addresses. Through our searches, we can typically collect this data for employers instantly.

At backgroundchecks.com, we are as transparent as possible about our wait times. You will see a timeframe estimate for all our products. If you have any questions about turnaround times, please contact us directly.

What Can Cause Pre-Employment Background Check Delays?

As noted, estimates on the time it takes to conduct a background check are just that: estimates. While the team at backgroundchecks.com aims to be forthcoming about turnaround times, variables beyond our control can influence how many days a check takes. Here are just a few of the factors that can cause delays.

  • Weekends: Our estimates for how much time a screening may take are in business days, not all days. If you order a check right before a weekend, that will usually add to the total time of the screening process.
  • Closures: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many county courts, businesses, educational institutions, and offices were closed or operating with reduced hours. Holidays and national emergencies can cause closures, too. These closures impede our gathering of information, extending background check turnaround times.
  • Extra steps: A multi-step screening process will always take longer. For instance, start with an alias and address history check, then use that information to run county, state, federal, or multi-jurisdictional criminal records searches.
  • International checks: Investigations in other countries are more complex than running checks in the U.S. How long does a background check that relies on foreign records take? Anything from two weeks to two months, depending on the country.

Selecting the Right Background Check Company

Turnaround times aren’t everything when it comes to pre-employment background checks. If given the choice between a quick and a thorough screening, the latter option is always preferable.

For this reason, employers need to choose a reputable company for pre-employment vetting. The ideal partner will help you make informed hiring decisions with a timely, thorough, and transparent service.

Here are a few reasons to choose backgroundchecks.com:

Instant criminal searches

Several of our searches, including our US OneSEARCH multi-jurisdictional database search, are processed instantly and deliver results employers can use today. Having the option of instant checks is vital for employers on a strict timetable.

Live courthouse searches

We also have on-the-ground court runners to conduct in-person criminal searches at the courthouse. Some county courts don’t have a searchable online database and require someone to be there, face-to-face, to access criminal record information. Since county courts are where most criminal cases are filed, employers must have the option of live courtroom searches as part of their pre-employment screening.

Other searches

We offer an expansive selection of screening services, many of which go beyond criminal history. Employers can work with us to expand their checks to include resume verifications, civil court searches, driving record searches, and more.


How long does it take for a company to receive a background check report?

At backgroundchecks.com, some verifications are processed instantly (like criminal records checks), and others take 1 - 3 business days. However, as we have already explored, several variables can delay a check.

Why is my background check taking so long?

International searches, federal holidays, office closures, and multi-step processes can increase background check turnaround times.

How do I know if I passed my background check?

Federal law requires that all employers abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA states that an employer must notify the candidate in writing if it wishes to take adverse action (such as disqualifying them) based on their criminal history or other information in the background check report.

What are the turnaround times for the most common background check searches?

  • County Criminal: 1-3 days (exceptions exist for some limited access areas)
  • Statewide Criminal: Varies by state (due to limited access areas)
  • Federal Criminal: 1-3 days
  • National Wants and Warrants: 1-2 days
  • County Civil: 3-5 days
  • Federal Civil: 2-3 days
  • Bankruptcy Reports: 1-2 days

Other searches

Some services require phone interviews. Those include education and employment verification, as well as reference checks. Review the average timeframes we have been able to achieve below.

  • Employment Verification: 2-3 days
  • Education Verification: 2-3 days
  • Professional License Verification: 2-3 days
  • Reference Checks: 2-3 days

Get instant updates on Background Checks for Employers

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

Michael's recent publications

More Like This Post

State Criminal Search

Virginia Criminal Search

A Virginia state background check can uncover more criminal records. Learn about these tools and the legal restrictions involved.

Order a Search for Virginia