How Long Does An Employment Background Check Take?

So how long does an employment background check take? Well for starters, if you’re wondering this then you should make sure you fully understand what an employment background check is and what they show.

If you’re already comfortable with that, then read on to learn more about what factors go into how long an employment background check takes.

What you should know first

Before we begin, it’s important to note that both pre employment and general employment background checks vary significantly in both process and duration. Standards in background screenings can also differ significantly by industry, and even by job title (at the same company)!

Pre employment background check how long does it take

Today, background checks are used to ensure safety, legal compliance, potential liability issues, company fit and more. Employers may have an in-house team that researches potential candidates (and existing employees), or work with a third-party to gather as much relevant information as possible. Or they may use a combination of both. Some of the data channels that employers (and third-parties) use to conduct background searches include social media scans, Google results, government documents, etc.

Based on the fact that there is no standard-issue background check, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of answers to the question of how long does an employment background check take.

However, you can use a number of factors to get a good estimate so you have a better idea on what to expect.

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Your employment background check. How long does it take and why is it important?

So you’ve started the job application process, and it feels like it’s taking forever – even though a few places have expressed interest in you. All you want to know is how long do employment background checks take so you can finally get the news. We totally get it.

When you’re trying to estimate how long do background checks take for pre employment it’s common for people to skip some crucial information. We’ll get to time frame estimates in a second, but first you need to understand how important these scans are and why you need to prepare for them before figuring out your answer.

Employment background checks are important for the success of the candidate and this investment of the employer. These scans can take place whether you are applying to jobs, recently landed a new job or have been working at a company for years. Think about it, 72% of employers say they conduct background checks for every new employee before they’re hired. And according to that same CareerBuilder survey, a whopping 55% of employers drug test candidates.

Passing a background check is a must for keeping your current job and for landing the next one.

That means that you need to be prepared at all times. And developing a strong online presence is more important than how long an employment background check takes (and it’s something you can control). If you have that handled you won’t need to worry about how long an employment background check takes, because you will have a great chance of getting the job!

To learn more about what employment checks are specifically, visit our previous post on background checks.

How long does an employment background check take – by the numbers

Again, there is no singular timeline for how long an employment background check takes, while your employer has an ideal time-frame, there’s no guarantee that everything will finish up that quickly. However, we’ve gathered some of the most relevant information about employment check durations below:

How long does an employment background check take - by the numbers

According to a survey from CareerBuilder, background checks usually take 24 – 72 business hours to complete. That is a pretty quick time frame, and in an ideal world, a pre employment background check won’t take much longer than that. As a matter of fact you can usually count on them being finished in less than five business days.

Remember, the longer the background check, the greater the likelihood that candidates will take other offers. Unfortunately for employers and employees alike, there are tons of factors that prevent a timely background check.

However, here’s something you should know:

As the candidate, a potentially long wait time can work to your advantage.

Can you use competing offers to re-negotiate your new salary? Will a lengthy background check turnaround time help you to negotiate a pay raise with your current employer?

Instead of asking, “How long does an employment background check take?”, ask yourself, “How can I use this part of the application process to my advantage?”. While there’s no guarantee that your background check will take over a month, it is a real possibility and you should prepare for it mentally. Combine that with the rest of the application process, and you have some extra transitional time on your hands.

Use it wisely.

Factors that affect how long an employment background check takes:

Depending on the type of background check (or checks) that your employer deploys for candidates, the whole process could stall at any point. Below we’ve outlined a number of potential screening points in background checks. We’ve included the intention, the method and how it can add delays to turnaround time.

Your social security trace:

This is step one of nearly all professional employee background checks. The information associated with your social security number is highly valuable because it has the potential to expose the kind of information that your employer is targeting. This piece of information provides insight into where you’ve lived, where you’ve worked, whether or not you are attached to criminal databases, connected to multiple identities, etc. If you just got married you will need to get your social security name change. Because this report is so common, typically employers can access it immediately. However, if the candidate has any issues with their social security number, this could take some verification time. Keep that in mind if your social security number has ever been stolen or associated with unseemly behavior.

Criminal Databases – local, national and international

Since this is not an uncommon search to make, a significant holdup in how long an employment background check takes will usually not come from here. It’s not impossible however, and here’s why:

After your employer begins looking for your history via your social security number, they (or the third party that they hire) will begin combing through various criminal databases. Unfortunately these databases are not always accurate and none are complete. Therefore, your employer will look for information about you on both a local and national level using these online repositories. This will definitely add some time to the background check turnaround time, since any red flags will need to be researched further. Keep in mind that in addition to most databases being incomplete and/or inaccurate, many are not automated. That means that your employer may have to submit retrieval requests to a human clerk.

how long do background checks for employment take

As a matter of fact, about 30% of US courthouses mandate in-person direct access. In these cases, the turnaround time will likely stall because there is no way to predict the load of that individual clerk.

Additionally, most employers will consider submitting to global watch lists. These kinds of databases include people who have been labeled as potential terrorists, known fraud practitioners, and others who face regulatory sanctions. Typically these kinds of checks only take a day or two. So when you’re wondering how long do background checks for employment take, this is one more step to consider.

More legal records

In addition to researching the legal records attached to your social security number and looking for leads on you in criminal databases, your potential employer will also look for records from the DMV. This might sound silly at first, but there are two primary reasons that employers do this. The purpose here is typically to find more proof that you are who you say you are, and find out if you have a dangerous driving record.

While a speeding ticket from 5 years ago may be irrelevant, an outstanding fine for multiple DUIs and reckless endangerment is cause for concern if the candidate is applying to drive a schoolbus. Remember, these records typically have a turnaround time of 3 business days, but if there is any missing or questionable information then it may take longer.

Employment, licensing and academic histories

It might surprise some job-seekers to discover this, but employers really do spend time verifying both academic and employment records. This usually won’t push back how long a background check for employment takes by too long, but in the following cases it might.

The employer performing the background check is beholden to how quickly former supervisors, references, HR departments, academic and training officers release the appropriate information. If the employer finds any discrepancies between the information supplied by the candidate and the former employer (or academic institution), then that will take additional time to sort out.

This is why it’s always a good idea to be as honest as possible as a job applicant. You don’t want your own exaggerations to keep you from getting the job that you want. If you didn’t finish your BA, MBA or a certificate training program, don’t lie and say that you did. That lie will not only catch up to you, but delay the entire process. And presumably, that’s not the kind of behavior you want to show your potential new employer.

Credit checks and your new job opportunity

While this may seem controversial, most employers run credit checks on potential employees. Legally, employers are allowed to do this because it’s part of their due diligence. However, the specific laws surrounding this practice vary by state, so the employer must ensure that their process is in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (also known as the “FCRA”) and relevant state laws.

If a candidate is going to be handling money, employers want to make sure that they can be trusted. Handing over that position to someone who is bankrupt, has a history of fraud or embezzlement, or is in a dire financial situation may not be ideal. While some states require employers to justify their reasons for conducting a credit check, others don’t. That means that employees should be prepared for this step of the background check. So if you’re wondering how long do employment background checks take, this is just one more step that can add to the overall waiting period for you.

Search results and social media checks

An increasingly common aspect of background checks includes a deep dive into the candidate’s life according to their digital footprint. That means that your employer is looking for red flags and positive reinforcing factors when it comes to your search results on Google and on various social media platforms. While this is often viewed as an informal or unofficial aspect of employee background checks, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

This part of the background check is as valuable as the others and has the potential to derail the turnaround timeline. To keep this part of the process from taking up unnecessary time, make sure to perform an extensive cleanup of your social media accounts, and work towards building a strong personal brand online.

BrandYourself offers tons of resources to do just that, we even built a DIY platform to help people scan, audit, build and monitor their presence online. Invest your time in the parts of your online presence that you do control. This will take more of the mystery out of the the whole process and make you less worried about how long pre employment background checks take. You will also show this potential employer why they need to hire you.

Additional hang-ups for those working outside of the US

Unfortunately, processing information about your background may take additional time if you worked outside of the US. This is because your employer needs to gather and confirm all relevant releases and documentation in order to get that background information. Additionally, dealing with foreign governmental bodies typically calls for a protocol different from that found in the US. This automatically means additional processing time on both ends.

So, how long does an employment background check take when you’re worked outside the US? As you probably expected, there’s no hard and fast rule, but be prepared for a lengthier window for the turnaround time. Again, as the candidate, make sure that you provide all of the information requested, and make sure that it is as accurate and up to date as possible.

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Use our free tool to help you pass an online screening when you apply for a job.

The Wrap Up

As you can tell after consulting with the information that’s out there about how long employment background checks take, the only solid conclusion we can make is that they vary. Best case scenario, background checks can have a turnaround of under 5 days. However, the more thorough the screening, the longer the overall process. This is simply because the number of components to the background check increase and increase the likelihood that one of them will meet some complications that inevitably delay the overall process.

For the employee, we strongly suggest that you help your potential employer avoid delays by:

  • Being as honest as possible in everything you submit
  • Signing all necessary release forms
  • Being accurate about past dates of employment, academic accomplishments, training, licenses, etc.
  • Cleaning up your social media presence
  • Making sure that your social media profiles reflect your professional accomplishments
  • Cleaning up any irrelevant or negative search results for your name

Because the expected length of a background search can have such a range, it’s most important for candidates to prepare themselves for this. And whether you’ve been wondering how long do background checks take for pre employment, or how long do employment background checks take in general, you just need to prepare yourself. If you’re applying for a job, take the steps listed above. If you are a current employee, make sure that you are consistently managing and updating your online presence.

Always aim to reduce and eliminate any factors that could add to the turnaround time for your background check. We suggest that you put yourself in the shoes of your potential employer. From there you can conduct your own personal background check on yourself to find out if there are any red flags you were previously unaware of. Ideally you should start this process before applying to jobs, but it’s never too late to see how you’re doing.

BrandYourself has developed software and services to help people pass their next background screening. So make sure you sign up for our free DIY software – which includes your reputation report. If you need more help, give us a call at (646)-863-8226 or schedule a consultation with one of our Reputation Advisors to discuss your options with managed services – where we do the work for you.