How long does a background check take?
A common question asked by people, especially those who have applied for a job, is how long does a background check take? The short answer is that for a formal check it usually takes at least one to three days, but often up to a week. However keep in mind that many positions require an FBI background check which takes approximately thirty days and be aware that each situation varies because certain factors can hold this process up.
Different employers mean different things when they say they’re going to do a background check. For some this simply means calling references to confirm that names and dates match the references’ records. For others it can mean checking only the validity of a social security number. For still others, it means paying a full blow and expensive background search service to dive deep into an applicant’s records. This formal search raises privacy concerns which often require the employer to provide an applicant with notice, and sometimes written consent, before such a search is performed. These searches often access information which is not publicly or even readily available and the search firms must be able to document a legitimate legal purpose to perform the search.
Many factors can slow down a formal background check. One is that an applicant’s carelessness in filling out an application can cause delays when the information provided does not match the information on record with reporting agencies. Another cause of delay is slow response time by the agencies and records custodians from which verifying information is sought. When a background check is performed, an applicant’s responses are verified by checking with current and former employers, schools, courts and other public agencies. Some of these sources are notoriously slow in responding to requests. Complicating matters, even in this day and age not all record holders store information electronically; records may still be stored on paper, on microform or on microfiche. These older media often take longer to access and result in a slower background check. Some background checks take longer because an applicant has had several names or lived in many different places. Much confusion arises when an applicant’s name is subject to a nickname or a variety of spellings. This leads to more record sources to search, or more variations of the information provided, that must be consulted in order to verify an application. Even once the data is all verified and located, it must be compiled into a report that complies with applicable state and federal laws.
There are some services offering instant or near instant background checks. These services are considered less reliable because they draw information from databases that are notoriously incomplete. For example, many criminal checks are run using these types of databases but criminal records are not stored in a single repository. Because these instant searches do not consult each applicable source known for records, and there is no standard rule or procedure requiring the custodians of criminal records to report to these databases, they are incomplete.
In summary, the answer to “How long does a background check take?” is that it varies according to whether the check is informal or formal, whether the search is performed by a private background search service or say the FBI, and whether the applicant supplies accurate and complete information. If you do not know what kind of search will be performed, expect it to take between three and thirty days, and do your part to help the process along by being as truthful and accurate in your application.