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How Long Does It Take to Run a Background Check?

An individual in a suit and tie looks through a paper report.

Background checks are an invaluable part of the employee vetting process for employers. They give employers a fuller picture of who they’re hiring. They also confirm the identity of the applicant to ensure the employer is following all labor laws and industry standards. If you’re asked to complete a background check as a part of a job interview, this can extend the interview process.

Similar to rapid drug tests, employers want to get background checks done as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. This way, neither the prospective employee nor the employer are left in limbo. You can get background checks results within days, sometimes within hours. The time it takes to run a background check is subject to a few variables.

Average Times for Completed Background Checks

There are several different types of background checks. Each type of check will have a varying timeline for returns, however, you can expect from one business day up to a month for results. The more checks an employer may be running, the longer time you can expect it to take.

There are instant background checks. These checks typically only search your Social Security number, the national sex offender registry, and the national criminal database. These background checks can be used by industries that are simply seeking to confirm your identity. For more in-depth searches, such as gun ownership, and job history, returns can take longer. 

Causes for Background Check Delays

If your background check is delayed getting to an employer, this isn’t a reason to panic. There are several reasons that a background check can be delayed that have nothing to do with the contents of the check. Administration delays, authorization processes, and simple scheduling conflicts may all be viable reasons. 

Incomplete Forms

Incomplete forms are one of the most straightforward causes of background check delays. Some types of background checks require you to fill out an authorization, or other forms. For example, if you’re applying for a national security position, you’ll have to fill out the Standard Form (SF) 86. If these forms are incomplete, they’ll have to be sent back to you for completion.

If these forms are electronic and can be sent back via email, this could delay your background check by a few hours, maybe a few days. If these forms have to be sent back manually, it could delay your background check by weeks. 

Lack of Authorization

Because many background checks access sensitive information, you as the information owner have to authorize the access of these records. Anything on public record will not require authorization, but things held by private institutions, like your education history, will need your authorization to access.

If you fail to provide authorization, if your authorization form is incomplete, or if you simply aren’t prompted for the authorization this can cause a slowdown in the process. 

Record Delays

A lot of factors may cause record delays. Lack of digitized information, difficulty contacting a source of information, or confusion over names can all contribute to delays. Some screenings, such as drug panels, have predetermined turnaround times that can’t be helped and can slow down the process. Not all background screening examines the same information; the more employers are looking for, the more potential delays are incumbent in the solicitation process.

Scheduling Difficulty

Some background checks require different layers of scheduling between various departments. For example, if a drug screening is integrated into your background check, it can take some time for the labs to communicate the results. This is why some employers opt to keep drug-testing resources on-site, instead of going through a third party.

Verifications and Reviews

Once your employer receives your background check, they’ll have to review it and verify it against any information you’ve provided. This can take some time, as yours might not be the only background check they have to review. If you’re concerned about how long the process is taking, a good rule of thumb is to follow up after two weeks if you haven’t heard anything. 

How to Speed Up the Background Check Process

You can speed up your background check process as a prospective employee in a few ways. You can:

  • Ensure you’ve completed all request forms;
  • Submit all forms as early as possible;
  • Provide any requested documentation, such as birth certificates, yourself. 

If you’re providing records directly to your prospective employer, make sure you’re giving them copies and not the original document. Accidents happen, and requesting another copy of sensitive documents like your Social Security card could be time-consuming and costly.

If you’re an employer looking to speed up a background check, you can:

  • Use online screening services;
  • Request electronic signatures, rather than wet signatures;
  • Have a plan in place for adverse results beforehand. 

In some cases, there’s nothing you or your prospective employer can do to speed up the process. However, there are ways you can use this wait time meaningfully. For example, you could do more research on the company, or pursue important questions that may not have come up in the first interview. 

Knowing what kind of background check is being requested, providing all the necessary information upfront, and using electronic documents over manual processes is the best way to establish your expectations for the timeline of your background check.