The REAL Time it Takes to Run a Background Check

The REAL Time it Takes to Run a Background Check

By Tricia O'Connor

Background checks are like oatmeal. There are instant background checks that can be delivered quickly, but like their quick-time oatmeal counterparts, they are thinner and lack the depth of a high-quality product.

Comprehensive background checks, however, are like steel-cut oatmeal. The results take longer but they are heartier, richer, and provide more value for the dollar. 

Here, we break down the average turnaround times for common background checks so you can create the perfect hiring recipe.

The Importance of Background Checks

Employers need to know who they’re hiring and to make sure they provide a safe work environment for their employees and clients. Your employee is an extension of your company’s brand; an employment background check is a reasonable step to make sure you have quality – and qualified – staff.

Background checks also play an important role in limiting negligent hiring liability. Failure to complete background checks will impact product quality, work environment, and customer experiences, and will greatly increase a company’s exposure to liability.

The turnaround time for background checks depends on the combination of services you select and the requirements for the role you’re filling. A background check may mean something different to you than it does to another employer – and that difference may affect the overall length of time your specific background check takes to complete.

Most reliable background screening providers will turn standard results for you in two to three business days.

Types of Background Checks

There are many kinds of background checks that can be run on job applicants. The contents of a background check will vary depending on the industry, type of job, and the employer’s preference.

Here are some of the types of background checks an employer may choose:

  • Social Security Number Trace 
  • National Criminal Records Database Search 
  • Statewide Criminal Records Check 
  • County Criminal Records Check 
  • FBI Fingerprint Database 
  • Sex Offender Registry
  • Healthcare Sanctions Report (HSR) 
  • Terrorist Watch List
  • Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) 
  • Driver’s License Verification and Driving Records Check (MVR Report)
  • DOT Employment Verifications 
  • Credit Report Check
  • Education Verification 
  • Employment Verification 
  • Professional Reference Check 
  • Professional Qualification Verification 

What’s a Standard Background Check?

A standard background check is the most common form of a background check. It satisfies the need for a quick turnaround time but doesn’t make a significant sacrifice to the quality of the check. A Social Security Number trace, a national criminal database search, and a sex offender search are often included in a standard background check.

However, a standard check may not be appropriate for all employers, especially those hiring in heavily regulated industries like transportation or healthcare.

A standard background check will be completed in 48-72 hours (or sooner) most of the time.

What’s a Comprehensive Background Check?

A comprehensive background check is another way to describe a customized background check where an employer uses a variety of screens to provide a full profile of a candidate. In some cases, background checks may be required by the government, such as DOT employment verifications for those seeking employment in the transportation industry, or credit checks for folks working in the financial industry, such as tax preparers. In other cases, employers may choose the complexity of their background checks based on their own unique needs.

A comprehensive background check can take up to five days to complete, but results may come in sooner.

Are Instant Results Reliable?

Some companies will promise ‘instant’ results, but like anything else that sounds too good to be true, you should use caution around these service providers.

Cheap online screening companies do nothing but scan public records. It’s essential to the background check process that researchers have access to check criminal records. Some courts have moved to electronic records, but many must be searched in person. Still, many public records are woefully out of date and incomplete and the chance of missing important information is extremely high. You might also receive records for someone else with the same name or miss records because your applicant has an alias.

What Causes Background Check Delays?

External factors, like what organizations have experienced during the pandemic and current economic recovery, can delay a background check. Hiring surges, courthouse closures, drug testing laboratory limitations, and HR difficulties have all impacted how long it takes to complete an accurate and full-service background check.

Additional factors include:

  • The specific jurisdictional requirements where the search is being conducted
  • Processes associated with certain jurisdictions, such as unique authorization forms
  • Technology limitations or incomplete records at the court
  • Holidays or court closures
  • The amount of information that requires additional investigation associated with the search
  • Common names – for example John Smith – may take longer since there are many people with that name. Extra verifications must be made to ensure the individual is the same John Smith applying for the position.

It’s perfectly reasonable for candidates to follow up with an HR department or a recruiter if they feel the background check is taking too long.

Safer, Smarter Screening with EBI

If you want robust background checks and not sugar-coated instant results, it is important to look for background screening firms that have proven their dedication to the industry’s best practices. Only then will you find the right recipe for hiring.

Accreditation with the Professional Background Screeners Association (PBSA) is essential. These companies – of which EBI is a longtime member – are committed to the highest levels of accuracy, dependability, security, and transparency.

EBI is widely known for our safer and smarter background checks backed by our industry-leading technology that allows us to custom-build screening packages to fit your unique needs and requests.

For more information on our award-winning background check services, contact us today.

Background Checks

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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