How Long Does an Employment Background Check Take

How Long Does an Employment Background Check Take and Why it Might Take Longer Than a Regular One

Last updated on May 11, 2021

Finding a new job can be a stressful experience, from completing application forms, updating your CV, to keeping your head in an interview. Employee background checks aren’t to be sniffed at either and some job applicants enter a state of panic at the thought of just what their potential employers might uncover during the process.

We tend to envisage a shady member of the HR department tapping away at a computer and revealing all our secrets. The truth is, your employer is more interested in speaking to your previous employers, confirming your educational background, and checking your criminal history.

When it comes to determining how long do background checks take for pre-employment, the answer is that it depends on the circumstances.

If you’ve been waiting a couple of months for the outcome, chances are you’re starting to worry, but a longer than average turnaround time isn’t necessarily a bad sign.

How Long do Background Checks Take for Pre Employment?

In most instances, employers have a full picture of the poignant aspects of your past within a few days and most background checks are completed in between one and seven working days. This is dependent on the type of job you’ve applied for and what your duties would be. For example, someone applying to work as an Uber driver or a job in childcare will be required to undergo an FBI background check prior to employment which could delay the process by a further 30 days.

In general, when looking at how long do background checks take for pre employment, the more senior the role, the longer the background check process. Similarly, the longer your employment history, the longer it takes as well. While most companies check just the past seven years of your employment history, if you’re in line for a high-profile position, your potential employer may choose to check through the past 20 years of information, thereby extending the pre-employment background check time considerably.

5 Reasons Employment Checks are Delayed

1. Inaccurate Candidate Information

If you’re serious about getting that new job, you’ve no doubt done your best to provide your potential employees or employment agency with the information they need to complete a background check quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately, some inaccuracies can occur regardless of how meticulous the applicant is. For instance, if your name is Steven but the employment agency has used a variant like Stephen, it could take the background check service a while to put two and two together and find the information they’re looking for.

Similarly, if you’ve decided to omit a vital piece of information because you feel it could harm your chances of a successful application, chances are you’ve ruined it already.

2. Archaic Data Storage

Some institutions keep their records on the latest digitized systems, while others still resort to the old paper and filing cabinet method. Public institutions, educational establishments and other organizations reliant on outdated methods may struggle to respond to a background check query in a timely manner, especially if the information is from several years ago and has already been archived to a dark and dusty corner in a warehouse somewhere.

Imagine some poor soul who, instead of getting that great IT job you’ve just applied for, spends their days scratching through boxes of old files, searching for that elusive document that proves that, 20 years ago, you really did work as a lifeguard at the local country club.

Hopefully, that thought gives you a little perspective and maybe even a little peace of mind as you contemplate the reality of how long does it take for employment background check process to be completed?

3. Incomplete Background Check Request Forms

Sometimes, it’s not the fault of the applicant nor even the institutions storing the information required to complete the background check that causes the delay. One of the most common causes of delays to an employment background check is that the necessary forms are completed incorrectly or lack important information.

When an HR department requests a background check from a Credit Reporting Agency, it must abide by the strict guidelines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These include a signed authorization form from the applicant which many companies fail to submit timeously.

While a background check company can proceed with some aspects of the pre-employment screening process, like checking out the applicant’s past criminal history, the results can’t be released until all the documentation is in place.

4. Unexpected Hurdles

Sometimes, something as simple as getting in touch with your referee or previous employer proves more arduous than anyone might have anticipated. Maybe your previous employer is overseas on holiday or simply ignoring her emails. If someone listed as referee on your application fails to return telephone calls or divulge the necessary information, you could find your employment background check process delayed for days, or even weeks.

Understandably, severe weather can disrupt the background check companies hunt for information. Flooding can render courthouses inaccessible and cause untold havoc in terms of responding to background check queries. Similarly, organizations experienced data breaches or similar cyberattacks could find their digital archives in chaos, causing a lengthy delay to any pending background check requests.

5. International Challenges

In the global village we now live in, many people have been educated overseas or worked for a time in a different country. This can present significant problems for background check companies who may struggle to communicate with the person at the other end or simply be confronted with a different set of laws governing the sharing of sensitive personal information.

Recently, international screening times have improved and where candidates needing input from overseas sources were once waiting for between six to eight weeks for a result, those processing periods are now sitting at around eight to 16 days.

How Long Does an Employment Background Check Take Compared to a Standard Background Check?

The best online background check services seem capable of spewing out reports in a matter of minutes, with most of them claiming over 99% accuracy and promising to include details about everything from an individual’s employment history to how many guns they own.

Unfortunately, it’s not legal to use these services to perform background checks on potential employees, tenants, or even just someone you’re interested in hiring to walk your dog once a week. To some degree, that’s a good thing, as many online background check services rely on a limited field of information.

In other words, a criminal check may only extend as far as the county borders, while an FCRA-accredited background check company will be more vigilant, searching through county, state, and federal databases to get a more accurate impression of an individual’s criminal past.

What an Employment Background Check Reveals

If you’re wondering how long a standard online background check takes, you can find out more here. In terms of this article, however, it’s important to realize that a standard background check doesn’t delve into the same dark corners as a pre-employment background check.

According to the president of one employment service, Mary Delaney of CareerBuilder, “An employment background check is designed to …make sure candidates have accurately represented their background on their applications, and that a candidate does have a history that could impact workplace safety, hurt the company’s reputation, or could put other employees at risk”.

An employment background check will be looking at the following:

  • Education – verifying that the candidate earned the educational qualifications listed on their resume
  • Employment history – beyond checking out the references you supplied on your application, a potential employer will also ensure you have the experience you claimed to have and that your dates are consistent with the records held by your previous employers
  • Criminal record – as we mentioned earlier, this can extend to all criminal records and misdemeanors, whether at a state, county, or federal level.
  • Credit history – this aspect of a background check is usually included only if the position requires some level of financial responsibility.

How Long Should You Wait?

This is a rather more complex question than the one about “How long does it take for an employment background check?” and the answer is like the one commonly given in response to, “How long is a piece of string?”.

In many instances, it’s better to just be patient, after all, you’re presumably not the only candidate your potential employer is submitting for background checking, and if multiple background checks are being performed on several applicants, there’s little reason to worry, even if you’ve been waiting for seven days or more.

If you’ve been waiting for longer than a week with no feedback, however, it’s worth getting in touch with the recruiter and finding out the status of your background check. Remember, any and every potential employer who has found reason not to appoint you as a result of your background check “must give you a pre-adverse action disclosure”.

You also have a right to see all the records held in your name and “dispute inaccuracies or confusion or seek damages” in the event that you feel your rights have been violated.

What Could Damage your Chances of Employment?

Although the process for employment background checks is getting stricter, there are some things that would have disqualified you for a specific position that may no longer impinge on your career. There was a time when a criminal history would have automatically lost you the job, but these days, not so much.

According to employer review site, Glassdoor, an increasing number of employers are trying to reduce discrimination against those with a criminal history and give them a fair chance. Glassdoor’s report explained, “By removing the criminal history question from job applications and delaying the background check until after a conditional offer has been made, these policies seek to help ex-offenders”.

One of the quickest ways of losing yourself a job is by lying on your resume or application. After all, would you employ someone who was willing to lie to you? Bad references from previous employers don’t go well either, while driving violations and poor credit history may impact on your career opportunities should those be skills you require for the position.


If you’re currently on the lookout for a new job or you want a career change, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the current legal requirements surrounding pre-employment background checks. Not only do you need to know exactly what information your potential employers will be looking at, but also how long does an employment background check take?

In most instances, an employment background check is completed within a few working days, unless you’ve applied for a position that requires a security clearance, in which case, you’ll have to find enough patience to get through the 30 or so days it takes to complete an FBI background check. Similarly, if the job you’ve applied for requires a certain level of financial acumen or a clean driving license, there’s every possibility it will take a little longer than a standard employment background check.

One of the best ways of putting your mind at ease prior to a pre-employment background check is to perform a background check on yourself. Admittedly, it might not be 100% accurate, but it will give you a good idea of what information your potential employers might be reviewing prior to offering you the position. With more and more recruitment agencies and HR departments turning to social media to discover more about their applicants, it’s a good idea to delete some of those embarrassing photographs from your wild college days.

If you’ve ticked all those boxes, make sure there are no skeletons in your closet, If you understand the pre-employment background check process, you should be able to sleep peacefully, knowing that there’s nothing in your past to prevent you from pursuing the future of your dreams.

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