How Long Does a Background Check Take?

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Posted by: David Garcia May 06, 2020
working woman

As a recruiter, your main job is to make the hiring process as quick and painless as possible by attracting top-tier talent. As an employer, your job is to build highly functional teams. That’s always going to involve background checks.

Though they’re highly customizable, a lot goes into even the most basic background check. The vetting process includes contacting previous employers, educational institutions, and credit bureaus. It involves piecing together employment history, looking at a candidate’s credit history, and requesting criminal history records. These screenings also can involve contacting federal law enforcement and scouring the national criminal database.

A complete screening can take as long as a few weeks. But some background checks can be as quick as a few days. So, “how long does a background check take?”

The truth is that there is no “typical” turnaround time for background checks because it all depends on how much information you require. Here, we examine the steps involved in the screening process, including pre-employment background checks, the hiring process, and why delays occur. Then, we’ll discuss ways to minimize potential delays and make the process quick and painless.

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How Long Does a Background Check Take?

Under perfect conditions, a background check takes one to three business days. However, one can take up to 14 days or longer, depending on the scope of the searches. There are steps built into the process that take time, such as:

  • Reviewing the list of job applicants
  • Filling out the background check request form for each job candidate
  • Reviewing security clearance information on things like criminal checks and employment screening
  • Gathering release forms
  • Vetting professional references

Some processes may be invisible to you, like communicating with your background check company or other third-party company. Third-party communications can have an impact on turnaround times. Understanding what to expect from a routine background check allows you to understand what may be causing delays, thus cutting down turnaround times.

What Are the Causes of Delays in the Background Check Process?

Even if you’ve been through the background check process before, you may have some questions about how it works. One concern is potential delays. Delayed employment background checks can cause the candidate you worked hard to find to become frustrated. They may readily accept another position elsewhere while you wait for their background check to arrive.

There are a few reasons that background checks get delayed. From incomplete check request forms to trouble navigating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, expect the employment screening process to encounter some roadblocks along the way. Below are some of the causes of delays that occur most frequently:

Fair Credit Reporting Act

A vendor must receive authorization from a candidate before they can complete a background check. And this isn’t just common courtesy. The Fair Credit Reporting Act federally mandates employers follow the act to ensure compliance.

However, delays in the screening process can occur when the candidate fails to take immediate action. An applicant might wait three or four days before reading over the necessary authorization form. That can kick off a domino effect, delaying progress on pre-employment screening, criminal records requests, and credit checks.

Drug Testing

Drug testing records constitute relevant information on any background check. There are two main delays in drug testing for employment purposes.

Candidate Drug Test Scheduling

If the job applicant passes a pre-employment background check, you’ll want to set up a round of testing for current results. Drug tests take just a few minutes to collect but can incur delays if the job applicant misses their appointment or otherwise doesn’t submit to the screening promptly. Scheduling conflicts or a lack of urgency might also cause candidates to delay visiting a testing clinic. This kind of delay will ultimately prolong the time it takes to get the drug test results you need.

woman on computer

Drug Test Clinic Delays

Postponed appointments aren’t the only reason for delayed drug test turnaround times. The clinic may have a large number of people that need test results. In rare cases, a specimen can become tainted or lost, which will require the applicant to come back in and submit another sample. If the clinic produces a non-negative result, a Medical Review Officer must assess the applicant’s report. While they aren’t routine, any of these situations can delay the employment background check process.

To learn more about delays, check out our blog on nationwide data on delays by state and county.

County Court Information

Most United States counties have online portals that share civil and criminal history information. In these counties that offer online access, vendors can usually return criminal reports and state criminal records in less than one business day.

However, some counties may not offer enough information online. In such cases, a representative will need to visit a courthouse and perform record checks by hand. This time-consuming process can slow down an employment background check by several business days or weeks. But criminal background checks are a vital component of every more extensive background check.

county court information

Education Verifications

Education verifications are easiest to obtain at the university level since most higher education institutions are a part of the National Student Clearinghouse. Vendors can access degree verifications and education history within one day, so it’s almost like an instant background check.

If a screening vendor needs to access proof of high school education or higher education credentialing from a foreign country, the screening process can be trickier. A vendor will need to reach out to the specific school for proof of graduation or request a transcript translation. In some cases, the vendor will be better off working with the applicant to obtain the necessary transcripts.

Third-Party Vendors and Education Verifications

Some third-party services will force this time-consuming work back onto the recruiter. To avoid the headache of chasing down education verification, you should recruit an employment background check vendor like ScoutLogic. We will always do the extra work for you, so you don’t have to seek out the information you need.

Employment Verifications

Employment verifications also vary on their degree of difficulty to obtain. Large employers can usually offer employment verification through a third-party service within one day. But small to mid-sized employers aren’t usually subscribed to these services.

In the case that an applicant has only worked for smaller past employers, verification requires:

  • Reaching out to the employer and handling the process as the employer wishes, or
  • Obtaining past W2 forms from the candidate.

This kind of manual verification takes much longer than the automated process offered by larger companies. However, the right employment background check vendor will work efficiently to obtain the verification you need.

Here’s a quick guide you can use when picking a background check company.

Employment verifications

How Can You Speed Up Employment Background Checks?

Some of the factors we’ve discussed are outside of your control. However, you can take steps to minimize delays and speed up the screening turnaround process.

Set a Time Limit on the Authorization Process

As a recruiter, you should inform your candidates to complete the authorization process as soon as possible. Let them know that their employment may face delays if they don’t provide their consent timely. Federal background checks, like credit check or criminal record requests, take long enough as it is. Holding on the part of the applicant is unacceptable.

Push Applicants to Take the Required Drug Tests

Find a background check vendor that will remind the applicant to visit the drug testing clinic daily. Ensuring they have the proper release forms signed in all the right places is essential. But getting the applicant to the clinic in the first place should be your top priority.

remind applicants about drug testing

Communicate Court Record Delays

Let candidates know that the acquisition of court records may take several business days, even if they seek other opportunities. Provide honest updates on their background check and offer revised TATs when they become available. Your background check vendor should be proactive in providing updates on their criminal background history.

Check “Unable-to-Verify” Rates

When you choose a vendor, find one that has a 10% unable-to-verify rate or lower. The rating indicates their commitment to keeping the verification process moving swiftly along. While time is of the essence, you don’t want to risk completing an inaccurate or incomplete employment background check. Our experts at ScoutLogic can efficiently and accurately check a candidate’s criminal background, credit history, and other information. This way, you can rest assured and choose the right person for the job.


The background check collection process seems daunting. But if you get a stellar third-party vendor on your side, you can leave the stress at the hiring table. ScoutLogic takes on credit history requests and past employment history collection, handling each background check swiftly and with care. We know how vital each candidate could be to your company, and we do everything to get them on board as quickly as possible.

More interested in outsourcing? Here’s a helpful guide on how to pick a background check company.

Outsourcing background checks


The background check is an essential part of the recruiting process. Even though you can perform a background check yourself, you risk obtaining incomplete information or creating a compliance risk. Your time and effort should go toward writing job descriptions, conducting interviews, and completing reference checks—not chasing down background checks. It’s best to hire a third-party service with vast experience in delivering accurate background checks.

Get in touch with one of our experts at ScoutLogic today to simplify the background screening process. We’ll assign you your very own Scout that will work as an extension of your team. Plus, we’ll offer updates throughout the screening process and deliver timely background checks. This way, you’ll always know what to expect and stay updated throughout the process.

Contact one of our ScoutLogic employment background check experts today to get started!

ScoutLogic is not a law firm. You should always check with qualified counsel before you make any changes to your background check program. If you need a qualified attorney, we would be happy to make a referral for you.

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