Overview

How Long Does a Pre-Employment Background Check Take?

pre-employment

How Long Do Background Checks Take for Pre-Employment?

Whether you are sitting in the employer’s chair or applying for jobs, you are probably curious how long employee background checks take. If you are trying to fill a position, you might be on a tight schedule and itching for a quick turnaround on candidate background checks. If you are 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 check.

Turnaround Time for Employment Background Checks

One of the complicating factors when trying to estimate how much time an employment background check will take is that the average pre-employment background check ismultipletypes of checks. In that sense, the term “employment background check” is something of a misnomer because it suggests that all the candidate history an employer wishes to know can be obtained through the search of a single all-inclusive database.

In truth, employment background checks can incorporate everything from criminal records to resumé details and civil court documents. Turnaround times for the checks that verify each of these categories of data vary, which affects the answer to the question, “How long does a background check take?”

Turnaround Time for Criminal Background Checks

In many employment settings, the term “employment background check” actually means “criminal history check.” A criminal background search is the most common type of pre-employment background investigation, hence this synonymous treatment of the two terms. As such, when people ask how long do checks take, they are often referring specifically to criminal checks.

The answer can vary depending on: 1) how many steps are involved with the criminal check, 2) which criminal records reports are being ordered, and 3) whether the process involves any international searches.

At backgroundchecks.com, searches of our proprietary multijurisdictional database, US OneSEARCH, can return results instantly. For information not stored in our electronic database, we can typically return reports in 1-3 business days. This timeframe applies to county-level criminal searches, state-level criminal searches, andfederal-level criminal searches. State-level criminal checks see the most variation, with some states taking one business day and others several weeks for processing.

If there are extra steps to the criminal vetting process, the total wait time will increase. For instance, some employers like to do alias and address history searches before ordering other criminal reports. These details can help employers 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. After obtaining the results, it’s up to the employer to review them and strategize a background check plan.

The biggest wildcard for criminal check turnaround time is international status. If the employer needs to conduct international criminal history checks, you can generally add two or three weeks 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 number of days to complete the checks. Below, we will run through the other common types of checks in the employment screening process, as well as notes about their average turnaround timelines.

Driving record checks

driving-record
Our estimate for a motor vehicle report at backgroundchecks.com is 1-3 business days. However, the timeframe does depend on the state, given that all states and their Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) are slightly different in how they process checks and return information. Sometimes the process may take a few weeks.

Credit history checks

credit-record
In most cases, credit checks should process instantly. However, before a company can order this type of check for employment purposes, it must complete an application to become an End User of “Consumer Credit Reports for Employment Purposes, Tenant Screening or Franchise Screening.” This application and approval process can add up to 14 days to the process.

Civil court searches

civil-court-search
How much time a civil court search takes depends on whether the court in question is a county or federal court. 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.

Federal Background Checks

The typical employment background check takes between a few days and a few weeks to complete. At backgroundchecks.com, we even offer quick reviews. The solution for federal background checks can quickly change from a few weeks to a few months.

Before beginning work with the federal government — or even a contracting position — applicants must pass a federal employment background check. The background check process is designed to ensure that each candidate is "reliable, trustworthy, of sound moral character, and committed to the United States." In some instances, passing the check entitles the candidate to a government job and a federal security clearance. The length of the background check process is determined by the level of consent required for the position.

Not all positions in the federal government require a security clearance. Those do not typically include a reasonably standard employment background check that includes criminal background checks and employment verifications. These checks will take no more time than a routine background check. A security clearance background check will be conducted if the position requires access to sensitive or confidential information. This check will add several steps to the background check, significantly increasing the processing time. Clearance checks frequently include interviews with the job candidate's acquaintances—spouses, family members, neighbors, and roommates, among others.

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

Top Secret background checks typically take four to eight months but have been known to take up to a year in certain circumstances. 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, your background check will likely take longer.

The federal government has historically struggled with significant background check backlogs, adding additional time to the clock.

Verification checks

Verification checks are pre-employment background checks intended to verify the job seeker's details on their job application or resumé. These checks can include verifications of the following pieces of information:

  • 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)

In most cases, verification checks have a turnaround time of about 2-3 days. However, these checks can take longer. In the case of verification checks, the process involves contacting a specific person or office. If the offices at a business or university are closed for a holiday, for example, it can also add time.

Bankruptcy checks

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

Identity checks

As previously mentioned, backgroundchecks.com offers identity/alias checks and address history checks as ways for employers to expand their pre-employment background checks and to make sure they are vetting a person based on accurate information. We run these checks by using a candidate’s provided Social Security Number, which should be linked with all of that person’s 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 what our wait times might be. On all our products, you will see a timeframe estimate. If you have any questions about turnaround times, you can also contact us directly.

What Can Cause Pre-Employment Background Check Delays?

As we have already noted, estimates on the number of days to complete a pre-employment background investigation 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 it takes us to run a check. 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 other offices were either closed or operating with reduced hours. Holidays, national emergencies, or other events can cause closures, too. These closures impede our ability to gather information, causing the vetting process to take longer.

  • Extra steps: A multi-step screening process is always going to take longer. For instance, an employer may start by running an alias and address history check on a candidate and then use that information to run the county, state, federal, or multi-jurisdictional criminal records searches. Those extra steps will add processing time.

  • International checks: As we already mentioned, investigations in other countries are more complex than running checks in the U.S. As such, the answer to “How long does a background check take?” will always be longer (and harder to guess) for international checks than for domestic screenings.

 

Selecting the Right Background Check Company

Turnaround times aren’t everything when it comes to pre-employment background checks. Indeed, employers and employees alike both have reasons to want these checks processed quickly. However, if given the option between a quick screening and a thorough one, the latter option is always preferable.

For this reason, employers need to choose the right company for pre-employment vetting processes. The ideal investigation company will be able to offer a range of options for checks and timetables, will be forthright about processing times, and will be ready to activate its systems to deliver a service that is timely and thorough.

Here are a few reasons to choose backgroundchecks.com:

Instant criminal searches

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

Live courthouse searches

While we offer instant searches, we also have on-the-ground court runners to send to specific courthouses to conduct in-person criminal searches. 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 candidate information screening.

Other searches

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

 

Frequently Asked Questions

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

How long it takes an employer to get a pre-employment background check report back will vary depending on the type of checks the employer wishes to run—among other variables. At backgroundchecks.com, we offer some verifications that process instantly and deliver results in 1-3 business days for many others. However, as we have already explored, several variables can delay a check.

Why is my background check taking so long?

Perhaps you requested an international search, or maybe you merely submitted the check request right before a major U.S. holiday. Office closures, complex multi-step processes, and other variables can add to turnaround times and change the answer for “How long do checks take?”

How do I know if I passed my background check?

Sometimes, job seekers can feel left in the dark about the outcome of their background information checks. Fortunately for prospective employees, federal law requires that all employers abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA dictates that an employer must notify an applicant and obtain their consent to conduct a pre-employment screening. It also states that an employer must notify the candidate in writing if it wishes to disqualify the candidate based on criminal history or some other form of information found during the vetting process.


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. How long each of these services takes also depends on a few other factors. The average we have been able to achieve for the most common verifications is listed below.

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

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