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[Updated Guide] How Long Does a Background Check Take?

How long does a background check take?

Your company has decided to run pre-employment screening. However, you don’t want this process to slow down hiring. So, how long does a background check take?

How Long Does a Background Check Take?

Most background checks can be completed in 2 to 7 business days. Yet, keep in mind, several factors influence the exact timeframe. Let’s examine the process from the beginning.

An Overview of Pre-Employment Screening

Background Checks in Buffalo New York

What Is a Background Check?

A background check seems simple enough. A company reviews an employee’s history before hiring them. So, what does this so-called background history include? The answer depends. Some businesses only examine a person’s criminal records. Others may investigate criminal records, civil records, driving records, employment history and more. Generally, the more responsibility an employee has, the more comprehensive (and time consuming) their background check will be.

A background check could consist of any of the following:

  • Criminal Record Searches – Federal, National, State, County
  • Sex Offender Registry Searches
  • Civil Record Searches
  • Motor Vehicle Records Searches or Driving Records
  • Credit Reports
  • Professional License Verification
  • Academic Verification
  • Employment Verification
  • Reference Checks
  • Drug Screening

Why Are Background Checks Necessary?

According to a recent survey, 78% job candidates admitted “they did or would consider misrepresenting themselves on their application.” (CNBC, 2020) This willingness to tell less than the truth should be unnerving for hiring managers. Background checks are a best business practice because they help you…

  • Prevent Bad Hires
    Hiring takes time and costs money. You want to make sure the people you bring into your organization have the exact credentials they claim to have. Otherwise, you’ll end up starting over… which means more time and more money.
  • Avoid Litigation
    Unfortunately, poor screening practices can lead to negligent hiring lawsuits. Your organization will be held responsible if you knew or should have known an employee was a risk. Thus, you have a legal obligation to conduct thorough background checks.
  • Protect Your Company’s Reputation
    A preventable tragedy could permanently damage your business’s image. Other situations might be less serious, but still embarrassing. For example, organizations ranging from Walmart to MIT have had situations where top executives were caught lying on their resumes.
  • Keep Everyone Safer
    Finally, safety is paramount. You need to protect the well-being of your employees, your customers, and the greater public. And this begins with thorough background checks.

Should I Background Check Every Hire?

You may not necessarily run the same types of background check for every employee. For instance, a CFO would require a far more rigorous pre-screening than a receptionist. Nevertheless, consistency is key. In other words, similar groups of employees should have similar screenings. Ignoring these rules could land your organization into trouble with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Consider this scenario. A woman applies to be a forklift driver and you make an impromptu decision to pull her driving records. If this isn’t something you do for male forklift applicants, your business could face a gender bias lawsuit.

Do I Need to Tell A Candidate I’m Conducting A Background Check?

Telling a candidate you’re planning to screen them isn’t only a nice thing to do, in many cases, it’s legally required. Since background checks are consumer reports, they are regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA. Although the name is misleading, the FCRA pertains than more than just credit reports. It also applies to criminal searches, civil searches or any information collected through another provider. To remain compliant, your organization needs to inform candidates about third-party background checks. And before you proceed, individuals must give you written permission to do so. This may seem excessive, but remember, reporting errors DO happen. It would be unfortunate to deny someone a job because their screening accidentally brought up the wrong files.

Why Can’t I Use an Instant Online Background Check?

At this point, you’re probably thinking background checks sound complicated. If you’re looking for a quicker and easier solution, it’s tempting to search for an instant online screening option. Don’t be fooled. Many of these services may be not only unreliable but also potentially illegal. In the best-case scenario, an online background check only scans digital files. Since many courts still have paper records, you could miss vital information. In addition, regardless of which background screening company you use, your organization must follow federal, state and local laws. Failing or neglecting to adhere to regulations could result in expensive litigation. In fact, within the last ten years, companies including Amazon and Target have paid over $174 million for FCRA violations. (CBS News, 2019)

How Can I Be Sure My Background Screening Provider Knows the Rules?

The best way to ensure accurate and legal background checks is to partner with a PBSA-accredited screening provider. The Professional Background Screening Association or PBSA grants their seal of approval to consumer reporting agencies that demonstrate the highest professional standards. These companies must undergo a rigorous set of on-site audits every five years to maintain their accreditation. Accredited providers will display the PBSA seal on their web. Or you can search the PBSA directory to find an accredited firm in your area.

Different Background Check Timeframes

Screening Employees in Buffalo NY | Buffalo Background Checks

You’ve decided which screenings you’d like to run. You’ve found a PBSA-accredited provider, and they’ve walked your through all the applicable laws. Now, you’re ready to background check your newest hire. So, how long will it take? Here’s an overview of various screenings.

How Long Does A Fingerprint Background Check Take?

Fingerprinting often is the first step in a criminal record search. A candidate’s fingerprint will be run against FBI and police records. Fingerprint background checks add another layer of accuracy. Since everyone’s fingerprints are unique, they are less likely to return incorrect information than a name or social security number. In the past, fingerprints were collected the old-fashioned way with an ink pad. Today, most places use a scanner that records fingerprints electronically. Usually, it takes under 30 minutes to collect a candidate’s fingerprints and the results are available within 1 to 3 days.

How Long Does A Criminal Background Check Take?

Criminal background checks may search sex offender registries, domestic/global terrorist watch lists plus federal, national, state and/or county criminal records. Unlike fingerprint checks, they use identifying information such as a person’s name and social security number to gather data. Generally, a criminal background check should be completed within 1 to 3 business days. There are, however, exceptions. Some courts do not have digitized records. As a result, your screening provider may need to send a someone to physically review files. (Most agencies coordinate with a network of court runners across the county.) Of course, this will slow down the process.

How Long Does a Federal Background Check Take?

Federal background checks uncover federal-level crimes such as identity theft, tax evasion, counterfeiting, embezzlement, illegal firearms sales and kidnapping. Because federal background checks only search across 94 federal U.S. district and appellate court databases, the turnaround is typically a single day. To gain a comprehensive view of a candidate’s history, most businesses also conduct national, state and/or county criminal record searches. Each of these searches drills down into lower-level courts and adds time to the overall process.

How Long Does a Civil Background Check Take?

While criminal background checks report crimes against the state, civil background checks report wrongdoings against individuals. The O.J. Simpson case is a classic example of the difference between criminal and civil trials. Simpson was acquitted of murder in a criminal court but ordered to pay $33.5 million in a civil settlement. As with criminal records, many civil records are not digitized. Thus, court runners may be necessary. This can extend the process out to 3 to 5 business days especially when dealing with smaller courts.

How Long Does a Driving Background Check Take?

Motor vehicles record searches or MVRs report on a person’s driving history. Since each state has its own department of motor vehicles, the exact timing varies. Nonetheless, 1 to 3 business days is standard. Although each driver may only have one license and one record in the U.S., some states don’t carry over violations. Therefore, if an applicant has lived in multiple places, you may want to pull MVRs from each of those locations.

How Long Does a Credit Report Check Take?

Credit reports include a list of accounts (credit cards, loans), payment history, outstanding balances and public records (property purchases, bankruptcies). Contrary to what many believe, a credit report conducted for a background check does NOT reveal a person’s credit score. Credit reports search digitized credit bureau records, so often they only take 1 to 2 business days.

How Long Does Academic Verification Take?

Academic verification proves an applicant holds the degrees the claim to have. Because this process involves calling individual institutions turnaround time varies. If a school is responsive and an applicant has a single degree, it may take less than a day. Whereas, if schools don’t answer on the first call and/or an applicant has multiple degrees, it may take several days.

How Long Does Employment Verification Take?

Employment verification confirms dates of employment, job titles, professional responsibilities, salary information and reasons for termination. Like academic verification turnaround time varies based on the responsiveness of past employers and the number of positions held. If an applicant worked oversees this could present further complications. Figuring out time zone and navigating international information sharing policies will increase the timeframe. Nevertheless, a few days to a week should be sufficient.

How Long Do Reference Checks Take?

Reference checks, although important, can be the most time-consuming part of a pre-employment screening. The reference check process involves connecting with an applicant’s listed references and asking them a series of questions. Coordinating schedules and conducting a 20 to 30-minute phone call with 2 to 5 individuals is a time commitment. Done correctly, reference checks may take anywhere from a few days to over a week.

How Long Does Drug Screening Take?

Some companies conduct drug screenings as part of the pre-employment process too. This especially is true in safety sensitive industries. Depending on the type of screening, results typically take 1 to 2 days. However, don’t forget to factor in scheduling. Sometimes it takes several days to get an applicant in for a test.

Making Background Checks More Efficient

What Factors Can Slow Down a Background Check?

When everything goes well, your applicant’s background report may arrive back sooner than expected. Yet, despite the best-laid plans, sometimes things will take longer than you thought. Here are a few factors that tend to slow background checks down.

  • Missing or Incomplete Forms
  • Scheduling problems with appointments
  • A Mix-up with Aliases or Name Variances
  • The Need for Manual Record Checks
  • Delayed Responses from Sources
  • An Applicant Who Lived Oversees

What Can I Do to Speed Up the Process?

With background checks, some factors will be out of your control. For instance, you can only follow up with the reference who refuses to call you back so many times. Fortunately, there are several ways to make pre-employment screening more efficient. First, establish standard procedures. You don’t want to decide what background checks you are going to run as you are hiring someone. When you know what needs to be done, you can schedule things like drug screening and fingerprinting immediately. Second, partner with a PBSA-accredited provider. These professionals are familiar with the rules and the routine as well as potential problems that can turn into frustrating delays. Their experience and expertise will allow you to minimize downtime.

What If I Have Concerns About the Results of a Background Check?

You followed all the steps above, and your applicant’s background check arrived back in a timely fashion. But… oh no! You see red flags. Now what? Once again, the FCRA dictates your response to this situation. You can not simply withdraw an offer of employment without an explanation. The FCRA’s  Pre-Adverse And Adverse Action Process gives individuals the opportunity to explain, dispute and correct possible errors in reporting. Of course, this will take even longer but, you owe it to yourself and your applicant to have accurate information.

How Can I Keep My Candidates Up to Date Throughout the Screening Process?

Justifiably so, candidates may be nervous about their background checks. Therefore, tell them what to expect. Briefly outline which screenings you run and provide an approximate timeframe. If you encounter an unexpected glitch, reach out to let them know about the delay. They’ll appreciate your attention and they’ll be less likely to panic and start looking for other jobs. In most cases, if there aren’t any problems, you don’t need to follow up with an applicant after screening them. There are expectations though. The FCRA grants individuals the right to request a copy of their background check regardless of the results. So, if someone selected this option, you would automatically show them their files.

Does Your Organization Need to Conduct Fast and Accurate Background Checks?

Metrodata Services is Western New York’s leading pre-employment screening service. As a PBSA-accredited provider, we can help your organization run timely, thorough and FCRA-compliant reports. Learn more about all the screening services we offer today!

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