Obtaining a background check is often a trade-off between “I want it done now” and “I want it done right.”
So how long does a background check take?
On average, a pre-employment background check takes two to four 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.
Part of the reason for the variance is that there are many types of background checks. Some you’re likely to need include:
- Identity. Scanning a license, Social Security card, or other official ID and verifying the information with local databases can usually be done rapidly. 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.
- 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 one to two days.
- Employment verification. This shows if someone’s job history matches what they told interviewers. This process requires contacting past employers and can take around three days, perhaps longer if incomplete or poor paperwork is provided, or if a past employer requires more documentation to release records.
- Academic verification. Employers want to know if a candidate’s educational background is correct. 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.
- Professional qualifications. This 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.
- Global watch list. The former Terrorist Search List 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 some information may have been entered inconsistently.
- Criminal 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. Different law enforcement agencies may have different systems and may need between a few days to a month for a detailed check.
- Motor vehicle. Learn about someone’s driving record and license status, including fines or violations over the last three to 10 years. Each state’s motor vehicle department may vary on how quickly they return results, though the time frame is usually three to seven days. Delays can be based on different computer systems, incomplete data, or name variations.
- Tenant check. Discover possible housing delinquencies like evictions, late payments, or related problems over the past seven 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 to a few days.
- Citizenship. 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 include the applicant not showing up for fingerprinting. No official time estimates are given but can take up to four business days.
- Social media. 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 background checks can take three to five days.
- International Background. If someone has lived and worked in another country their time and activities may be relevant to U.S. employers. The requesting agency needs to contact each country for this information. Times may vary depending on a country’s openness, its archives, and its relationship to the U.S. Generally expect twice as long as the domestic versions – four to six days instead of two to three.
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 your organization or exposure to litigation.
Companies engaged in background screening of employees and applicants wondering 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.
AccuSource 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.