How Long Do Background Checks Normally Take?

In the movies, detectives and government agents run complete background checks on suspects in just seconds.

But be warned: In real life, it usually takes a little longer.

While some types of checks might be as simple as a quick database search, most call for at least some manual records checks or verification by phone or email. The result is that screenings—if they’re to be considered reliable—are rarely instantaneous.

At a minimum, pre-employment background checks do two things:

  • Verify that information your job applicant has shared on their resume is true
  • Ensure your applicant’s background doesn’t pose a liability for your company or employees

That makes high-quality background checks vital to the health and safety of your company. Although delays can be frustrating, the peace of mind that a comprehensive background check can provide is well worth the wait.

How long does a background check take?

The background check process usually takes between two to five days to complete. In rare cases, checks can take longer, sometimes up to two weeks. The exact length of time depends primarily on the type of checks being done but it can also be affected by other factors.

Understanding the process can help you manage time and expectations appropriately.

What causes delays?

How long a background check takes depends on a number of factors. Knowing what can cause delays can help you avoid them.

Inaccurate or incomplete check request forms

Candidates sometimes make errors or omissions when submitting their information, which can cause delays and confusion. Explain ahead of time to your candidate that the more accurate and complete the information they submit is, the faster the process will go.

Not having the necessary authorization and release forms

No check, either by the hiring company or a screening company, can proceed until an applicant has received, signed, and returned all the necessary consent forms. It’s important that these forms be the most up-to-date available as required by law. This process can be done quickly and easily with an online system. Paper forms lend themselves to confusion and delays.

Verification checks

Most background check companies will gather contact information themselves to verify educational attainment, past employment, and licensing rather than rely on what the applicant provides. This adds a layer of security, but it can be time-consuming. And in many cases, this kind of verification involves personal phone calls and emails, rather than a fast and automated database search.

Drug screening delays

Delays in getting appointments at screening centers and lost samples can result in wasted time, which is why it’s essential to work with highly vetted laboratories and experienced drug screening providers. Medical reviews may be necessary to determine whether a non-negative result stems from a prescription medication or a medical condition.

Third-party delays

Not all former employers, court systems, and educational institutions have fully computerized files. Some county courts have significant backlogs, and most institutions aren’t under any obligation to return verification requests quickly. Turnaround times can also be affected by holidays and staffing issues.

How to expedite background checks

Since both you and your candidates are probably eager to know if you can proceed with the hire, it’s in everyone’s interest to get the check done quickly. While some aspects are beyond your control, you may be able to reduce how long your background check takes with a few simple steps.

Communicate with your candidates

Encourage candidates to get their authorization and release forms signed as soon as possible, and explain that hiring may be delayed if they don’t act promptly. Let them know what kind of information they’ll need so that they can gather it and have it all available when they submit their information. And, since background checks usually call for sensitive data such as social security numbers, assure them that their information will be kept private and secure. 

Keep it streamlined

A single online system that provides consent forms, collects electronic signatures, allows candidates to submit their information, and integrates with your company’s applicant tracking software is vastly more efficient than paper forms or multiple systems.

Understand what type of searches you need

There are multiple types of searches and verifications. It’s important to know which ones are required by your jurisdiction and/or industry as well as which ones are best suited to your company’s needs and the requirements of a particular position. This can save you time by ensuring you conduct only the searches that are truly relevant and necessary.

Work with a proven expert

A knowledgeable, ethical background check company can save you time by streamlining your workflow, steering you away from screenings you don’t need, and putting their experience to work for you.

Avoiding complications

Knowing your responsibilities as an employer and understanding what’s involved in the background screening process can help you avoid disputes and complications. At best, these complications can delay the hiring process. At worst, they can devolve into ugly legal disputes.

Follow federal regulations

Failure to follow state and federal laws concerning background checks can result in lawsuits and accusations of discrimination and bias.

At a minimum, employers are required to:

  • Inform applicants of their rights concerning background checks
  • Provide up-to-date consent forms
  • Ensure that applicant information is kept secure and private
  • Ensure that all applicants are treated equally
  • Follow the adverse action procedures outlined by the FCRA, which includes providing applicants who are turned down as a result of their criminal records with a statement of rights and a copy of the background check

Follow state and local regulations

Laws around pre-employment screenings vary from state to state, and even from city to city. Large companies with offices in multiple locations may be subject to different laws even when hiring for the same position. Working with a screening company that builds compliance into all their checks is a smart move across the board, and it’s especially important for companies that hire across multiple jurisdictions.

Final thoughts

How long a background check takes ultimately depends on a variety of factors, only some of which are within your control. You can significantly improve turnaround time by communicating clearly with job candidates, understanding your legal and ethical obligations, and working with a reputable screening company. If you’re ready to learn more about how EagleScreen can help you hire the best, contact us today.

@[email protected] Please let us know if you’d like us to include specifics about what this statement should look like!

This should instruct the reader to follow the Adverse Action procedures outlined by the FCRA as well as the summary of rights and a copy of their background check.


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