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How Long Does a Background Check Take to Complete? [2023]


The hiring process is a vital part of ensuring your company is staffed with qualified employees. With a competitive job market, making it through this process quickly enables you to not miss out on a great candidate.

One step in this process is conducting a background check on your potential employee, so you may find yourself wondering, how long does a background check take?

This quick answer is: it depends on many factors.

However, at iprospectcheck, we conduct fast, accurate, and FCRA compliant background checks daily.

We can help you determine the average background check turnaround time and how to conduct the fastest background checks today.

Let’s dive in.

Understanding the Background Check Process

Employment background checks can provide a plethora of information on your job candidate, depending on the type of information you choose to search and verify.

The different components of a background check can include:

In terms of turnaround time, some of these components may come back quickly, such as identity verification, while others, such as employment and education verifications, may take more time to complete because they may involve contacting HR personnel at various companies and working directly with educational institutions.

In general, the background screening process will take longer and be far less comprehensive if you are gathering the information yourself, rather than partnering with an outside company.

This is because there are a variety of entities involved in the process, many of which you may not have access to.

From  federal government agencies, to county superior courts, to past employers and educational institutions, there are a variety of people that must be contacted to get all the information you need on your job candidate.

In addition to these complexities, when conducting a background check, it is important to stay compliant with all local, state and federal background check laws.

If you choose to partner with a background check company, such as iprospectcheck, you will not be responsible for contacting these multiple entities. Instead, the company takes care of the entire process for you, ensuring you and your candidates both enjoy an exceptional customer experience.

Let’s examine the various components of an employment background check and set up some realistic expectations for turnaround times.

The Identity Verification (includes Social Security trace)

The Identity Verification will generally provide your company with the following candidate information:

  • Date of birth
  • Legal name
  • What state and what year your Social Security Number was issued
  • If the Social Security Number is valid
  • If the Social Security Number is active or on the Social Security Death Index (indicating that the person to whom the Social Security number was issued has been reported as deceased)
  • Your address history
  • Your name history  (the Identity Verification will generally provide a list of aliases and former legal names used by your candidate)

This search will be completed instantly and will be available to the end user before the order is placed.

Provided your screening partner has excellent technology and access to the best suppliers, this search is instant, and is made available for your review before you even place your order.

If the name, date of birth and Social Security number do not match, the background screening company may reach out to you or the candidate to clarify the data by requesting copies of your ID before processing the report.

National Criminal Records Database Search

This database search will instantly seek name and date of birth matches in a deep database comprised of millions and millions of records. A good background screening company with excellent integrated technology will complete this search instantly.

These types of searches are not suitable to report records from when found. A quality background screening company like iprospectcheck will always verify any records found in a database search directly with the reporting entity to allow us to adhere to strict measures to ensure maximum possible accuracy.

Federal Criminal Records Search

Most crimes are prosecuted at the Superior Court level in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. To find the records for those cases, you must look in the Superior Court records.

That is not the case for federal criminal records. Crimes that are prosecuted under federal criminal statutes are tried and adjudicated in the federal court system which included 94 district level trial courts located across the United States.

Searching these courts can be done very quickly when the name being searched is uncommon and there are no records to review, but common names and names that bring back multiple files take more time and research.

On average, Federal Criminal Records searches will take less than an hour to complete, with occasional searches taking up to several days.

National Sex Offender Registry

Searching the National Sex Offender Registry can be done quickly and easily using integrated technology in most cases and will generally take seconds to complete.

Once again, in the case of common names or in the event that a match or multiple matches are found, it will take more time to complete the search as the researchers dive deeply into manual research mode to be absolutely certain that the record reported is accurate before completing the search.

Detailed hands-on research will be required to validate any preliminary findings before a match can be reported.

On average, a National Sex Offender Search will take less than 2 hours to complete. Many are instant.

Global Terrorist Watch List

The Global Terrorist Watch List should be automated and take seconds to complete.

In the rare event that a match is found on one of the databases included in the search, detailed hands-on research will be required to validate the preliminary findings before a match can be reported.

The average turnaround time for this search is a few seconds when a background screening company that utilizes the best technology available.

County Level Criminal Records Search

As of 2016 there were 3,007 counties, 64 parishes, 19 boroughs, 11 census designated areas, 41 independent cities in the United States.

A well-run background screening company like iprospectcheck has taken full advantage of access to electronic records wherever available in these jurisdictions, and still has physical court runners in many jurisdictions where access to records is still done manually.

Automated reporting has grown exponentially over the years, but there are still counties in this country that demand that records be requested in person. Some even continue to maintain paper records.

At iprospectcheck, most jurisdictions take minutes to complete, there are others that may take days.

In rare cases, in counties that are remote geographically and only open one or two days a week and use paper files, it can take longer to get accurate results.

Statewide Criminal Records Search

Each state has its own approach to the management of its criminal court records. Some are electronically available, fast, accurate and comprehensive.

Some are available electronically and are fast but are not comprehensive. Some states have no public records database of criminal records at all.

There are states where the statewide search is equal to the sum of all counties, but in most cases, it is essential to run both statewide and county level records to attain the most complete and accurate criminal records history of a candidate.

Generally, statewide criminal records searches will take minutes to complete, with some states requiring several days.

Motor Vehicle Records

In most states, motor vehicle records are completed within seconds and with the right technology should be available instantly.

There are a few states that require signed releases be gathered or other administrative tasks be completed before records can be pulled.

Overall, you should anticipate that most motor vehicle records will be available instantly.

Education Verification

Verification requirements vary from campus to campus, but many colleges have partnered with the National Student Clearing House to manage their verification needs.

There are a few other third-party verification companies as well. The third-party verification process can take one to two days to complete the verification.

If the third-party verification companies do not have the school available, we rely on our internal database to determine how best to verify a diploma or degree. Sometimes, we must fax, email, or call the school directly.

During break periods, including summer vacation, it can be more challenging to connect with registrars to verify the education of a candidate. Our internal verification team is very, very good at getting these verified quickly and accurately.

Turnaround time for Education Verifications can range from minutes to days depending on how readily available the school and school districts make their records.

Employment Verification

Verifying employment is complex, time consuming and can be very frustrating for the Human Resources Manager that has a thousand other things to focus on.

Add to this challenge the fact that many people do not know who they have worked for and you have a real time consuming challenge.

They may know where they worked, such as Fedex for example. But they may have actually worked for a sub-contractor to Fedex, or a staffing company for Fedex.

There are many tools to help resolve the complex process of employment verification, including a myriad of very expensive third-party verification companies such as the Work Number, Thomas and Company, etc., etc.

It is nearly impossible for employers to verify past employment history without the expertise and tools that our fully staffed and trained verification team have access too.

Our many years of experience verifying past employment proves to be extremely efficient and valuable to our clients.

Even with these challenges, on average it takes iprospectcheck less than one business day to verify the entire employment history of a candidate. Many are completed in minutes.

Drug Screens

Once we receive an order for a lab based drug screen, we immediately determine the closest collection site for your requested service and for the convenience of your candidate and send the candidate instructions on where to go and how to request the service.

Once the candidate goes to the clinic and drops off a specimen, the specimen is overnighted to the testing lab. The lab runs the test and if the specimen passes the testing, the results are passed back to us by the lab electronically.

A negative test result will take about 48 hours after the specimen is collected to results being available to the client.

If the collection site misses the cut-off for overnight delivery, add 1 day to the turnaround time.

If the specimen fails the test at the lab, depending on the reason, the specimen will be sent to a Medical Review Officer who will reach out to the candidate to gather prescription information, etc.

Once through MRO the results will be available. Depending on how responsive the candidate is to the MRO the drug screen can be delayed for days.

Overall, the average time to complete labbased drug screening will take between 48 and 72 hours.

Clinical Services

Fully coordinated occupational health services will vary depending on the responsiveness and availability of the candidate. These services include DOT Physicals, DOT Physical Exams, Breath Alcohol Testing, all Post-Accident requirements, Flu Shots, TB testing, and more.

Generally speaking, these services can be completed within 48 to 72 hours of the order being placed.

Credit Reports

Credit reports are provided instantly. The average turnaround time for credit reports is measured in seconds.

Why is my Background Check Taking Longer Than Average?

The main reason one background check takes longer than another is often due to the accessibility of records data.

Some jurisdictions are very slow to retrieve and provide us with the records that we need to complete your report.

There are still superior courts in this country that are geographically remote and sparsely populated. Their courts may only open one or two days a week.

Their are superior courts that are in major metropolitan areas that do not respond to requests for records. These are a few reasons that some criminal records are less available than others.

In some cases, a person may have a very common name, or a very large number of files. Both circumstances can cause background check delays.

Sometimes we are waiting for a school or an employer to turnaround a request to verify your past employment or education. Believe it or not, many still use fax machines, do not recognize electronic signatures as valid, or require multiple wet-signature forms be included with each request.

These processes are time-consuming and prone to delays.

Quality takes time!

As a part of our Quality Assurance process, before we report any potentially negative information, we examine the record very carefully. This is not done electronically.

Trained experts examine every record very carefully before the report is released to the candidate and the employer for review.

Examining each record for reportability by jurisdiction and accuracy is a step in our strict procedures that helps us to maintain maximum possible accuracy.

Average Turnaround Time for Employment Background Checks

As we have discussed, employment background checks can include a variety of information, such as work, education, and credit history, driving record, criminal history, and even a lab-based in person drug screening.

Depending on what information is needed and how you go about obtaining that information, an employment background check can be completed in a few minutes to up to four days in normal circumstances.

If you choose to gather the information without the help of a background check company, this process can take significantly longer.

The time it takes to coordinate with organizations to acquire verifications of  past employment and education depends largely on how responsive those organizations are.

Average Turnaround Time for Gun Purchasing Background Checks

Due to the sensitive nature of gun background checks, they can only be performed by the FBI through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This system is not available to the public, and as such cannot be used for employment background checks.

Within a few minutes of submitting information, you should have the clearance you need to determine whether you are eligible to purchase a firearm. In California, every time you buy bullets your background check is completed through the NICS system.

Average Turnaround Time for Fingerprint Background Checks

Fingerprint background checks are often completed alongside other background checks for employment.

Why would a company run both when only a fingerprint background check may be required?

When a fingerprint background check finds possible matches, the researcher verifies the information at the court level.

Private background screening companies do this initially and will retrieve the actual records much faster, allowing human resources to make better hiring decisions more quickly without waiting for the fingerprint background check.

A fingerprint background check compares a candidate’s fingerprint to those of over 35 million Americans.

This process is managed by the FBI and utilizes the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Through this system, responses come within three days to eight weeks.

For positions in government, public education, airports, law enforcement, hospitals, and fire departments, a fingerprint background check is required. Supplementing them with a private company background check is a very good idea.

Average Turnaround Time for iprospectcheck

While the times to complete each type of background check stated above vary greatly, iprospectcheck can provide you with a full background check report including past employment verifications and education verifications on average in just one to two days. 

Reports including criminal records only will average less than 8 hours, with many completed in minutes.

How is COVID-19 Impacting Background Check Turnaround Times?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on background check turnaround times can be significant. At the beginning of the pandemic, many court closures slowed the background check process by closing entirely.

Most have re-opened now, but some have opened and closed multiple times. Without access to the courts, we must be patient in order to retrieve records.

The same is true for education verifications. School closures across the nation have made it difficult to gather the information necessary to verify education in many cases.

As the pandemic progresses, virtual processes are being put into place across many agencies, enabling businesses to operate as usual.

Nevertheless, a background check delay during the covid19 pandemic can and will occur. We keep our finger on the pulse of every jurisdiction to make sure that we retrieve records as quickly as humanly possible.

How do I Know if I Passed My Background Check?

Even with an excellent average turnaround time for background checks, a candidate may experience a longer waiting period. Employers may be running and considering multiple candidates’ background checks prior to making a final hiring decision.

Sometimes, the report is completed and with the employer. In most cases, using our candidate portal will allow you to see your background check in progress online.

Once it is completed, feel free to reach out to the hiring manager to learn if there is anything else that they need from you to make a decision.

Fortunately, due to the FCRA’s Adverse Action regulation, a candidate must be informed by their potential employer if an aspect of their background check is adversely impacting their chances of getting hired.

This is to ensure the candidate has time to review their findings and correct or dispute any errors or charges found prior to the final hiring decision being made.

iprospectcheck: Your Trusted Partner for Fast, Compliant & Accurate Background Checks

At iprospectcheck, we make the background check process easy for both employers and candidates.

With a one to two day average turnaround time for most of our background check packages, we provide you with the information you need when you need it to make a fast, informed hiring decision.

While the question, how long does a background check take? produces a variety of answers, our process is consistent, comprehensive, and compliant.

If you are seeking a screening partner who will consistently exceed your expectations for quality and service, feel free to Contact us today!

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.