How Long Does an Employee Background Check Take?

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how long does a background check take?

If there’s one question that can make an expert in employment background checks squirm a little, it’s likely this one: How long will the background check take?

That’s because the answer is, like many things related to background checks such as cost and scope: it depends.

The reason for such a wide variation in the timeline of the check is that there is a wide variation in the specific elements that make up the background check.

But generally speaking, a typical check usually takes two to four business days barring any unforeseen circumstances or other complications.

That said, some aspects of the process can take longer, depending on individual circumstances.

Here are some examples of the variations and how they might impact the timing:

  • Identity check: Depending on the type conducted, some identity checks are nearly instant and some can take up to two days. An identity check may involve checking the details on a driver’s license or a passport or some kind of national ID card, if available. At HireRight, for example, an employer may choose to implement a Social Security Number Trace which includes the year and state in which a Social Security number was issued, verification that the name and Social Security number belong to the candidate, and an applicant’s history of addresses based on where the candidate has established credit. More risk adverse employers may choose to utilize more comprehensive search sources to complete an identity check.
  • Credit check: A credit check may also take 24 to 48 hours to complete. It involves a search of credit bureau records and is designed to provide an overview of the candidate’s credit history.
  • Employment verification: This kind of check can be more complicated and take longer. It involves contacting personnel or human resources departments at relevant past employers, and may also require verifying periods of self-employment with the cooperation of the candidate. Consequently, it could take two to three business days, or even longer if there are international jobs to check. In some cases, a signed release form from the applicant may be required, because some past employers won’t share information without it.
  • Academic/educational verification: Confirming the academic accomplishments of a candidate typically involves contact with various schools and universities, which takes a bit of time — two to three business days for a typical report (keep in mind this can be even longer during summers and holidays when schools may be understaffed). If there are international educational listings on the applicant’s record, it could add a couple of days to the timeframe. Most institutions will confirm when the candidate was a student and what degrees were earned, though some will require a release form before sharing that kind of information.
  • Professional qualifications verification: Professional qualifications may include trade organization memberships, as well as certifications and licensure. It usually takes an average of two business days to complete this kind of work.
  • Global watch list checks: Searches of watch lists covering potential terrorists, known fraud practitioners, and people facing regulatory sanctions, are generally available. This kind of check can be done in as little as a day or two.
  • Criminal checks: The timeframe varies significantly, depending on where you’re doing the hiring. In the United States, criminal searches are generally completed one to two business days, barring holidays, or Court staffing issues. Candidates with histories outside of the United States could have a criminal records search that take anywhere from three to 30 business days, depending on the authorities involved and the process that they follow conducting the check before returning the results. These processes may include manual record checking, liaising with authorities across the country or in-depth research when multiple matches are identified. Generally speaking though, a criminal records check outside the United States takes between ten and 20 days.
  • Motor vehicle records: How long a request for motor vehicle records takes depends a lot on in what state you’re searching — it could be a few days or a couple of weeks.

Screening providers like HireRight are often asked if there’s any way to speed up the background check.

While there really isn’t any way to make it go faster, since there are so elements out of the candidate and the screening provider’s control, there are things that can slow it down.

You may want to advise your candidates of the following:

  • Gather your relevant information. A candidate may likely be asked to provide critical information such as former addresses, dates of employment, former salary information, types of educational degrees and the like. Having all this data in one place can help the screening process go smoother and also work to avoid any unnecessary inaccuracies that could also slow down the time to complete the background check.
  • Tell the truth up front. Often when potentially adverse or conflicting information comes up, providers like HireRight, are bound by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to verify that the information is accurate before including it in the report. This quality assurance process – especially when coupled with the process of providing the candidate the opportunity to dispute incorrect or incomplete information in the report – can really slow down the entire process, but is statutorily required for the Candidate’s protection.
  • Cooperate with the screening provider. Screening providers may sometimes contact candidates directly to see if they can help facilitate the process. This is especially common if the provider encounters an unresponsive information source like an academic institution, former employer or a professional reference. The candidate’s cooperation – for example, supplying alternate methods of verification such as copies of diplomas or old paystubs or W2s – can be quite beneficial to the overall timeline. In addition, if a candidate is listing someone as a reference, it’s important to let them they’ve done so and ask them to quickly respond to help expedite the process.

While the time it takes to execute a background check varies significantly depending on the individual services that comprise the check, we hope the general guidelines above help both recruiters and candidates better understand what may affect the final timeline.

To learn more about the timelines of background checks, we hope you’ll read our new book Background Checks for Dummies.

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Kim Nelson

Kim Nelson leads a team of highly creative people that inspire her to find new and engaging ways to help HR professionals stay current on trends in human capital management. In her free time, she loves to travel and follow her palate, searching for the world’s best food and drink.

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The HireRight Blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and is not a substitute for and should not be construed as legal advice. HireRight does not warrant any statements in the HireRight Blog. Any statutes or laws cited herein should be read in their entirety. You should direct to your own experienced legal counsel questions involving your organization’s compliance with or interpretation or application of laws or regulations and any additional legal requirements that may apply.