Waiting for a background checks requires a blend of “I want it now” and “I want it done right.”
That’s because they all take time, whether it’s a few minutes to verify someone’s identity to weeks or longer for a detailed portfolio on a senior-level candidate. But skipping an accurate background check and ‘going with your gut’ increases the possibility of future unpleasant surprises and even possible damage your organization.
So how long does background checks take?
On average, what comes up on a pre-employment background check takes two to four days, but can move faster or slower for various reasons:
- Technical delays, including difficulty finding records, computer problems, or documents with typos, spelling errors, or incomplete info.
- Review delays. Some sources, such as past employers or public agencies, may only have a few computers or a few employees, and a backlog of requests for similar information.
Part of the reason for the variance is that there are many types of background checks. Some you’re likely to need include:
1. Identity. Scanning a license, Social Security card another official ID and verifying this with local databases can usually be done rapidly, but searching national databases may take a few days or even a month, based on which databases are used and how many applicants are ahead.
2. Credit checks. Credit bureaus can confirm that a candidate has a financial paper trail including any major actions against them. While some specific financial details aren’t available to third parties without permission, investigators can assess basic financial stability in one to two days.
3. Employment verification. This shows if someone’s job history matches what they told interviewers. This process requires contacting past employers and can take around three days, perhaps longer if incomplete or poor paperwork is provided, or if a past employer requires more documentation to release records.
4. Academic verification. Employers want to know if a candidate’s educational background is correct. These can be done by checking with various schools, which may all have different archiving systems or amount of people available to assist, such as a smaller staff in summer.
5. Professional qualifications. This verifies that someone possesses licenses or certifications for professions/associations such as architects, attorneys, or physicians. Delays beyond one or two days could include if a candidate used a different name for these credentials.
6. Global watch list. The former Terrorist Search List indicates if someone has been flagged as a national security threat or another dangerous individual. Checking can be done in a day or so by government agencies, but there may be separate lists from different agencies, and some information may have been entered inconsistently.
7. Criminal checks. Get info about past charges, convictions or warrants from public record searches or private databases. Some states don’t disclose information about charges not resulting in convictions, or anything older than seven years. Different law enforcement agencies may have different systems and may need between a few days to a month for a detailed check.
8. Motor vehicle. Learn about someone’s driving record and license status, including fines or violations over the last three to 10 years. Each state’s motor vehicle department may vary on how quickly, generally three days to a week. Delays can be based on different computer systems, plus incomplete data or name variations.
9. Tenant check. Discover possible housing delinquencies like evictions, late payments or related problems over the last 7-10 years. Credit bureaus can provide these, but may be delayed because of incorrect or incomplete data. Reports can be generated within an hour or a few days.
10. Citizenship. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services performs financial, criminal and security checks and takes fingerprints when someone applies for naturalization, prior to an interview. Applications are valid for 15 months. Delays can include the applicant not showing up for fingerprinting. No official time estimates are given but can take up to four business days.
11. Social media. Personal social media pages can provide details about someone’s conduct, political views and interests. What can be seen is limited by what the applicant makes public. Authorized background checks can take three to five days.
12. International Background. If someone has lived and worked in another country, their time and activities may be relevant to U.S. employers. The requesting agency needs to contact each country for this information. Times may vary depending on that country’s openness, its archives, and its relationship to the U.S. Generally expect twice as long as the domestic versions – 4-6 days instead of 2-3.
Companies wondering how long should a background check take should make sure all submitted information is accurate and complete, and be honest and cooperative with anyone assisting in gathering this info.