Copywriter, Human Resources Manager, and Marketing Expert
Many jobs require a background check. For some companies, this is a matter of company policy. In other jobs, such as finance, childcare, and security, the government often requires background checks. While there are varying levels of intensity, for most people, a background check is nothing to worry about. In fact, the biggest question is often how long does a background check take? Here’s what job seekers and applicants need to know about background checks before they apply to new jobs.
In general, a background check will typically take anywhere from two to five business days. There are many things that can affect that timeline including:
- How detailed the background check is
- When employers and agencies collect the information
- How employers and agencies collect the information
- The accuracy of the information given
What Does a Job Background Check Include?
Every background check will include reviewing and verifying basic pieces of information about your identity. However, there are many other pieces of information that can come up in a job background check. These are some of the most common.
Every background check will seek to verify your identity. This includes answering questions about your current name, as well as any former names or aliases. In many cases, this information can easily be verified by providing your driver’s license, passport, or even social security number using automated software.
Employment verification is often a manual process. In industries, like real estate, employers can just look up a person’s publicly available licensing information. However, that is not always the case. In some instances, an employment verification involves a recruiter or hiring manager calling the listed places of employment from your resume.
Verifying a candidate’s educational background can be time-consuming. Some employers will simply ask for a copy of your diploma or transcripts. Others will just reach out to academic institutions to verify your credentials. Additionally, some educational institutions provide this information via an online database.
The time it takes to complete a criminal background check can vary based on the location and intensity. Some employers search only for federal crimes, but others look at state and municipal information as well. If you are applying for a job in another country, a criminal background check will likely take longer.
Many accounting jobs, or others dealing with money or national security, require a credit check. Some companies will use a “soft pull” credit check, which is less detailed and doesn’t impact your credit score. Meanwhile, other companies require a thorough “hard pull”, which will appear on your credit history report.
Another common job background check, especially for positions in government, is a global watchlist check. Employers use international checks to ensure you are not on any lists of known suspected terrorists, money launders, fraudsters, or politically exposed persons (PEPs).
Many popular jobs just require certification or licensing. Even jobs that don’t require specific credentials, like a delivery person, do require a more general driver’s license which employers will need to ensure is valid and up-to-date.
There are many types of background checks, so it’s not surprising that there is no clear-cut answer about how long a check will take. That said, there are some cases where a background check will take longer than necessary.
Cumbersome technology or process
The internet has streamlined background checks, but not every system is flawless. If there’s an issue with a computer, a lack of internet access, or a glitchy background check website, then it could cause problems and delays for jobseekers. In the worst case, candidates may even have to restart the process.
Inaccurate forms or information
Even with screening automation tools, human error can still happen. If employers use the wrong background check or misspell a word, then you could be left waiting . This can also occur when an employee has changed their name or when the employee uses a nickname in place of their legal name.
Extensive information searches
Generally, the more information employers require to perform a check, the longer it will take. Roles requiring high-level security clearances or in-depth local and international searches will require more time than a more general search.
County-level criminal information
It can be difficult and time-consuming for employers to obtain county-level criminal background information. These checks often require a mailed inquiry or physical visit to the courthouse to request records, which can take 30 days or more.
There are several things that are out of your control that cause a delay in getting the results of your pre-employment background check.
Weekends and holidays
Background checks often rely on information from sources that operate on a standard business day schedule. This can mean that weekends, holidays, or holiday observance days can cause an added delay in order, processing, or receiving the results of a background check.
Natural disasters, inclement weather, political strife, and other large-scale events like the Covid-19 pandemic can cause business closures.
Many businesses and government agencies are experiencing severe staffing shortages. Many background checks require at least some manual input from workers. Often, delays can occur if there are staffing shortages.
Local or international check
Getting accurate information from small, less tech-forward sources like municipal and county courts or international governments can drastically increase the time required.
How Candidates Can Help to Make the Process Faster?
One of the best ways for candidates to expedite the process is to provide complete and accurate information. It’s important to review your entries before submitting them to ensure correct information can be found in the fastest, easiest way possible.
Another way for candidates to expedite the process is to assemble an information file. Having transcripts, licensing data, or contact information will help to speed up the time it takes to answer questionnaires.
After your screening is completed, you may not hear from the employer right away. Background checks are just one piece of the hiring puzzle, and hiring managers may be reviewing the results from many different candidates. In fact, hearing back from the employer may take even longer than the background check itself!
If you are hired, the employer likely won’t share the results of your background check with you. However, if an employer finds something in your report that could decrease your chances of getting the job, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires them to let you know before they officially decide to not hire you. They are also required to provide a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” (known as a pre-adverse action letter), which provides you the opportunity to correct errors or explain negative information.
Getting a background check request can feel like a very official, and sometimes nerve-wracking prospect. Will an employer know about your parking tickets? What if there’s inaccurate information found? These are a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding background checks.
Depending on the scope and type of information requested, an employer will typically get results back within 2-4 business days. Keep in mind that more extensive, in-depth reports will require more time.
There are many vendors that provide a quick turnaround for many common background checks. The industry-standard turnaround for employment and education verification is 24 to 72 hours. Meanwhile, criminal background checks take 24 hours or less. Lastly, a more extensive FBI check takes up to 30 days to be returned.
A background check can remain pending for several reasons. The most common reason is that it is simply not ready yet. Other common reasons could be missing information, conflicting results, or an item that requires review by the employer before the next steps can be determined.
According to FCRA rules, employers must share any information that was discovered on a background check that is considered a negative against the job seeker. Additionally, employers must serve the pre-adverse action, the adverse action letter, and wait at least five business days until rescinding a job offer or hiring a different candidate.
The best way to handle this is to dispute it with the reporting agency, like the credit bureau or the responsible state agency. You should also tell the prospective employer that you are disputing the finding with the employment screening company. Employers are not required to hold a job for you, but they may choose to. So it’s always worth discussing.
Pre-employment background checks are a common part of the job searching process. While the information found on your background check should not come as a surprise to you, there are ways to keep an eye out for suspicious or inaccurate entries.
If you’re concerned about the records that will appear on your background screening, there are several free or inexpensive sources you can search. Keeping a proactive eye on your personal information can be an easy way to avoid any future issues with pre-employment background checks.