What Does It Mean When a Background Check is Pending?

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Posted by: David Garcia March 07, 2024

When the interview has gone well, and everybody seems happy, it can often feel like the recruitment phase is almost complete – however, a few vital steps remain. 

Background checks have become an internal part of the process, giving employers an essential insight into an individual’s past, possible criminal records, employment history, and education verification – but verification can take time.

During this process, you’ll no doubt see a ‘background check pending’ message, which can be hugely frustrating when both employer and would-be employee are happy to move forward. This state of limbo undoubtedly creates a sense of uncertainty, but understanding the process of background checks can help reduce some of the stress.

Do Instant Background Checks Exist?

Some – less than reputable – companies offer instant background checks. That sounds great, but it is probably too good to be true. 

These days, we all demand instant results, but the nature of a thorough background check means that it often takes time.

Companies offering such services usually scrape surface-level information that employers can easily find if they have the time and inclination. These checks will use real-time databases and online records that can give a brief snapshot of a person’s background but fail to go into sufficient depth and accuracy. Vital aspects of the checks, such as detailed criminal history, verification of educational credentials, and past employment checks, require manual inquiries and cross-referencing, which inevitably extend the process.

What Are the Common Causes of Delays for Background Checks?

There are various reasons why a background check could take longer than usual or face delays, ranging from individual human factors to systemic problems that slow the process.

1. Incomplete or Inaccurate Information

It’s no great surprise that if the information given by the applicant is inaccurate or incomplete, the process won’t get very far. It’s like applying for a credit card and showing the wrong information. The bank isn’t simply going to approve you and send you a shiny new card. Instead, you’ll either be rejected or lost somewhere in banking oblivion. 

Misinformation or gaps in the application can lead to extended search times or require additional verification steps. Simple mistakes like a wrong number can lead to a social security number not verifying, which can cause havoc with the entire process.

2. Court System Delays

Criminal records count as private information only accessible to a select few. You can’t hope to turn up at the courthouse and expect to be given decades’ worth of data on a person in the blink of an eye. 

To complicate matters, not all may be electronic, meaning manual record retrieval. If a person has lived in various states, this process needs replicating.

3. Third-Party Responses

When background checks look at employment and education verification, they often rely on a third party to respond. Let’s say you’re having a hellishly busy work week when an email pops up about an ex-employee you haven’t thought about for years. Will you drop everything you’re doing to respond or get to it when you have time?

4. International Checks

Getting speedy background checks from within the U.S. can be hard enough, but checks can become more complex and time-consuming for individuals with international backgrounds. Different countries have varying levels of accessibility to records, and language barriers can further complicate the process. Often, documents will need translating before being sent and after they return.

5. High Volume of Checks

Certain times of the year can lead to a bottleneck where checks back up, quickly leading to long delays.

The higher volume times are around Christmas for retail and January/February or September/October for other sectors, where employment numbers spike and many background checks require completing.

How Long Does It Take For A Background Check?

While potential employees and employers are often keen to have an exact timeline for background checks, this is far from an exact science. Checks typically take a few days to several weeks but are heavily influenced by the depth needed and whether further investigation is required.

A basic criminal record check might only take a few days, whereas a more comprehensive check that includes employment, education, and international records could extend to several weeks. Most companies carrying out background checks give an average timeframe of one to two weeks for a thorough background check.

How Can You Speed Up a Background Check?

Many of the factors that can either speed up or slow down a background check are out of your control, but there are several points you can focus on to ensure the process moves along as quickly as possible.

1. Provide Complete and Accurate Information

The best thing you can do is provide accurate and complete information from the beginning. Comprehensive data can significantly reduce the need for follow-ups and re-verification.

2. Prompt Response to Requests

It’s common for companies to ask for more information or clarification on specific points. If they do, respond quickly and ensure your submission is accurate. You don’t want to start playing background check ping pong.

3. Use a Reputable Background Check Service

Sadly, some delays are caused by the company not doing their job correctly. Do your research on your chosen background check service to give yourself the best possible chance of a streamlined process. You’ll also find that the best operators often use well-established systems and relationships that facilitate quicker turnarounds.

4. Pre-Verification

In some cases, individuals can pre-verify some aspects of their background (such as educational credentials) to reduce the time spent on these aspects during the check.

5. Clear Communication

Maintaining open lines of communication between the employer, the candidate, and the background check provider can help identify and resolve delays more efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Would a Background Check Still Be Pending?

A pending background check occurs during the assessment process, typically due to missing, inaccurate, or conflicting information. A background check can also be pending, thanks to court system delays, third-party delayed responses, international checks, or a bottleneck of background checks due to the time of year. 

Final Thoughts

‘Pending’ can be a frustrating status for background verifications. However, understanding why a background check is pending is the first step to curbing any annoyances. 

As mentioned, instant background checks aren’t reliable, so they’re typically not used. With the most common causes of background check delays due to extenuating circumstances outside everyone’s control, being prepared from the start is crucial. Along with prompt and good communication, ensuring you provide the most accurate, current information to the background check provider is a must to avoid delays. 

Finally, working with a reputable and experienced background check provider is among the best ways to combat verification delays. Here at ScoutLogic, we’re a proven background check provider that aims to simplify background checks. Work with us to receive efficient and thorough verification of your candidates.

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