How Long Does a Background Check Take?

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Posted by: David Garcia June 21, 2024

Time is money—or so we’re often told. In today’s super-fast world, where everything feels like it’s in constant flux, keeping up is imperative, and this couldn’t be truer than in the job market. Employees come and go, but holes in your team caused by departures can seriously impact your business.

Finding new potential employees, interviewing them, and then going through the selection process takes time, but even then, you’re not finished. Employers usually require background checks to ensure they’re hiring reliable and trustworthy individuals. While it’s another step in an already drawn-out process, ensuring you’ve got the right person for the job is a must.

But how long does this important step in the hiring process actually take? 

Understanding the process, what it involves, and the duration you can realistically expect is key to setting expectations — both for the employer and potential employee.

How Long Do Background Checks Take?

Generally, a background check takes between 1 and 5 days to complete. However, the exact timescale is dependent on various factors. The type, complexity of the checks, and third-party availability can all impact the length of time it takes to return a comprehensive background check. Then, we need to consider manual processing and access to public records. 

Employment Verification

When you see a glittering resume with precisely the kind of information you’ve been looking for, it’s easy to assume you’ve hit the jackpot. Call off the search; this candidate is perfect! 

However, it’s important to verify everything on a resume, including the applicant’s employment history, positions held, dates of employment, and reasons for leaving.

This step can take one to three business days, but delays may occur if former employers are slow to respond or the applicant has an extensive job history. If a potential employee with an international work history needs verification, you can expect this timeline to be extended. 

Criminal Searches

criminal background check is often one of the most critical aspects of the entire process. These checks can vary significantly in duration based on the depth of the search and the jurisdictions involved. A general rule to go by is that local and state searches might be completed within a day, while federal searches can take longer, often up to a week or more.

The process can extend even further if the check involves multiple jurisdictions or international searches. Additionally, the availability of digital records and the efficiency of the court systems play significant roles in the timing of criminal searches. There’s no other way to say it; some places work significantly faster than others. 

Reference Checks

A reference check is another eagerly anticipated part of the full background screening. This allows the employer to gain insight into an applicant’s character, work ethic, and suitability for a position. What can and can’t be said in a reference has changed a lot in recent decades, and much of it is now focused on simply whether a person did or didn’t work in a particular position and whether they would be rehired given the opportunity. 

Reference checks can be slow as it’s necessary to wait for a specific person who may have a million and one other things on their plate before they get to the reference request. That being said, it typically takes two to three business days, but it can be quicker or slower, depending on the availability and responsiveness of the references. 

You can expect some delays here if references need to come from abroad. Messages often need to be translated and forwarded to the correct parties, which can take time. 

Driving Records (MVR)

Driving records are usually only needed for driving positions where checking an applicant’s motor vehicle records (MVR) is an essential and legal requirement. These checks are often straightforward, with the report being supplied within a day or two, depending on the state and the efficiency of its Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). 

Some states provide digital access to driving records, speeding up the process, while others may require more time to retrieve and verify the information manually. Either way, a driving record check is usually one of the first parts to be completed.

Drug Testing

Again, this isn’t a component included in every background check, but it’s typical for industrial, construction, or driving jobs. The time required for drug testing depends on the type of test administered (e.g., urine, hair, saliva) and the lab processing times. 

Rapid tests can provide results in a few hours, but more comprehensive tests – which are usually needed – are sent to labs for analysis and typically come back within one to three business days. Additionally, a positive result requiring a second test can further delay the process.

Why Do Background Checks Take So Long?

Thoroughness and Scope

People often assume that background checks can be done with a few mouse clicks and entries into an all-encompassing database. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely accurate. 

The thoroughness and scope of the background check can significantly impact its duration as multiple areas need to be explored in depth. Aspects such as criminal history, education, employment, and references naturally take longer to complete than basic checks.

Multiple Jurisdictions

These days, and particularly in the United States, people often have a varied work history spanning multiple states and sometimes even countries. Each jurisdiction may have its own processes and timelines for providing the required information. Having a global computer database with every piece of work history would be great, but that’s a distant HR dream. 

Manual Processes

While computers can do just about everything, much of the background check, including contacting previous employers or references, still needs to be done by a human – and responded to by a human. These steps rely on the responsiveness of third parties, which can introduce delays

It’s not unheard of that references cannot be contacted – who knows, maybe they don’t even exist – which obviously slows the process even further. In this case, we typically inform the employer, who can then contact the candidate for a new reference. 

Public Records Access

You’d be amazed by how much information has now been digitized – but you’d also be shocked by how much isn’t. The speed at which public records can be accessed also plays a crucial role. Records are readily available online in some areas, while in others, they may require in-person visits to courthouses or government offices, leading to delays.

Verification and Confirmation

Verification and confirmation processes, especially when discrepancies are found, can add to the time required. It’s in everybody’s best interest to get a background check right, but when red flags appear that need clarification, it naturally adds time to the checking process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Part of a Background Check Takes the Longest?

The criminal records search typically takes the longest in a background check, especially involving multiple jurisdictions or international records. Another area that can lag behind is verifying past employment and references, which can be time-consuming depending on the responsiveness of the contracted parties. 

What Is the Shortest Time for a Background Check?

If everything goes smoothly and nothing untoward appears, the quickest you can hope for a background check turnaround is one business day. However, this might only cover basic checks involving readily available public records and databases. It may not go into the kind of depth required by most employers.

Final Thoughts

A background check can provide the peace of mind that comes with being confident you have the right person for the job. After weeks, and perhaps months of advertising, interviewing, and deliberating, and an extra week on top of that to ensure that there are no surprises doesn’t sound like much. While most background checks can be completed within one to five business days, several factors can influence the duration, including the thoroughness of the check, the number of jurisdictions involved, and the responsiveness of third parties. 

ScoutLogicoffers comprehensive background screening services tailored to meet your needs, ensuring accurate and timely results. We always strive to complete a background check as quickly as possible, but we believe that thoroughness and veracity are what employers really want. A comprehensive background check might be a frustrating final hurdle when you just want to hire the person and move on with the process, but that all-important seal of approval is worth the wait.

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