Typical Background Check Turnaround Times Explained – Wimgo

Typical Background Check Turnaround Times Explained

The time it takes for an employer to conduct pre-employment background checks on job candidates is often a source of anxiety and uncertainty for applicants. Turnaround times can vary from 24 hours to a week or longer depending on several factors. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explain what goes into a standard background check, reasons employers conduct them, variables that influence turnaround times, typical durations by check type, ways to potentially expedite background screens, how to set realistic applicant expectations, industry trends, legal compliance considerations, and more.

Understanding background check turnaround times can help employers implement and manage their screening programs more effectively while setting the right timeframe expectations with applicants.

What is a Background Check?

Pre-employment background checks allow employers to verify the accuracy of a job candidate’s resume, application, and interview responses against external records and sources.

Common types of background checks include:

– Criminal history – Checks county courthouse records for any misdemeanor or felony convictions associated with the applicant’s name and date of birth.

– Previous employment verification – Contacts listed employers to confirm title, duties, employment dates, salary, and eligibility for rehire.

– Education verification – Contacts schools attended to confirm degree(s) earned and graduation date(s).

– Professional license check – Verifies current status, issue date, and any disciplinary history for required occupational licenses. 

– Motor vehicle records – Checks Department of Motor Vehicles for driving history and current license status.

– Credit check – Retrieves candidate’s credit report to check for bankruptcies, tax liens, judgments, late payments, and total outstanding debts.

– Drug test – Candidate is asked to submit a urine, hair, or other sample to check for substance use.

Background checks provide critical information to employers to avoid negligent hiring risks and make informed selection decisions. While essential, they add time to the recruiting process that must be factored in.

Why Do Employers Conduct Background Checks?

There are several compelling reasons why the vast majority of employers today conduct some level of pre-employment background screening:

Reduce legal liability – Thorough background checks demonstrate due diligence and help avoid negligent hiring claims. If an employee commits a crime or causes harm, the employer has evidence they exercised reasonable care.

Ensure a safe workplace – Checking for a criminal record, especially for violent offenses, helps maintain a secure work environment. Certain industry roles also require drug testing and MVR checks to protect public safety.

Confirm candidate qualifications – Verifying education, professional licenses, and certifications ensures candidates possess required credentials for the role.

Assess trustworthiness – Financial responsibilities, criminal history, previous terminations, and dishonest applications can reveal untrustworthy candidates. 

Comply with regulations – Some industries like healthcare, education, transportation, and financial services require certain background screens by law.

Avoid resume fraud – Upwards of half of resumes contain inaccuracies. Background checks detect embellishments and falsifications on applications.   

Make better hiring decisions – Insights from background checks allow employers to select the strongest, safest, and most qualified applicants.

Adhere to internal policies – Most organization’s formal hiring processes mandate conducting background checks.

While no employer wants background checks to delay hiring, the benefits in risk mitigation and hiring optimization outweigh the extra time required.

Key Factors That Determine Background Check Turnaround Times

Many variables influence the turnaround time of pre-employment background checks. The major factors include:

Type of Background Check

– Simple verifications like employment and education generally take 1-2 days. More complex checks like federal criminal records could take a week or longer.

Volume of Candidates 

– Single applicants can be screened in under a day, while batches of 100+ will take a week or more. Higher volumes mean more work for vendors.

Quality of Application Data

– Incomplete or inaccurate names, addresses, and dates of employment/education provided by the applicant can significantly delay results.

Timing and Urgency 

– Checks needed more urgently often get prioritized by vendors for faster delivery. Non-time sensitive screenings may take longer.

Vendor Capabilities and Bandwidth

– Vendor technology infrastructure, resources, databases, and workload impact turnaround capacity and speed.

Let’s explore each of these key determinants of background check turnaround times in more detail:

Type of Background Check – The most significant driver of turnaround time is the type of check being performed. Simple verifications of single employers or education institutions can often be completed in just 1-2 days. These include confirming past employment titles, dates worked and schools attended through an automated database check or a quick phone call. 

More complex checks like driving records (MVRs), drug tests, civil litigation searches, federal criminal searches across multiple counties, and international checks will push the turnaround time to a week or longer. Databases for criminal records, DMV records, and drug tests are often slower moving bureaucracies. 

Volume of Candidates – Employers submitting a single background check will generally receive the results in 1-3 days. However, when there are dozens or hundreds of applicants in a batch, it will naturally take the vendor longer to work through the volume – typically 5-7+ days.

Some checks like criminal records and drug tests allow batch processing, while others like employment verification require individual outreach. The workload volume impacts the vendor’s capacity and workflow bandwidth.

Quality of Application Data – When candidates provide incomplete, inaccurate, or conflicting data such as incorrect past employer names, incomplete addresses, multiple spellings of schools, missing dates – it delays vendors ability to verify the records. Research to locate the correct information elements adds days to the process.

Garbage in equals garbage out. Poor data in leads to slow and potentially inaccurate results.

Timing and Urgency – Vendors typically allow clients to escalate priority and urgency for individual checks or entire batches. If the employer has a specific start date or critical role to fill, the vendor may be able to complete the process faster by putting other checks temporarily on the back burner. 

Likewise, batched checks that are more proactive versus tied to a specific hiring decision may end up slightly deprioritized by the vendor, adding to the duration. Being flexible on start dates and planning ahead are key.

Vendor Capabilities and Bandwidth – The vendor’s databases, resources, technology infrastructure and internal processes also greatly affect turnaround capacity and speed. Large national vendors have more robust systems and workflow bandwidth to take on large volumes. Small vendors may produce faster individual checks but lack scale on big batches. New automated tools also provide speed benefits versus manual processes. And fluctuations in the vendor’s overall workload impact turnaround times week to week.

In summary, the strongest predictors of how quickly background checks are completed are: 1) Type of check, 2) Batch size, 3) Data accuracy, 4) Timing flexibility, and 5) Vendor capabilities. 

Now that we’ve covered the key variables, let’s look at typical turnaround times by background check type.

Typical Turnaround Times by Background Check Type 

Here are the average turnaround times for the most common types of pre-employment background checks:

Criminal Records Check

– 1-5 days typical 

– Checks county courthouse records for misdemeanors and felonies

– Varies based on number of counties lived in 

– Federal checks add time

Employment Verification

– 1-2 days typical

– Contacts previous employers via phone, email, portal 

– Fast if have correct names, contacts, and dates

Education Verification

– 1-3 days typical  

– Contacts schools by database or phone call

– Quick if have proper school names and graduation years

Professional License Verification 

– 1-2 days typical

– Checks status through licensing agency databases

– Delays if license expired or applicant provides wrong details 

Driving Records Check (MVR)

– 2-5 days typical

– Accesses state DMV records for violations and license status 

– Government agencies tend to be slower

Credit Check 

– 1-3 days typical

– Retrieves candidate’s full consumer credit report

– Can take longer if report contains pending items 

Drug Testing

– 2-5 days typical  

– Urine, hair follicle, or other drug screening 

– Factors include type of test, lab location, and chain of custody steps

As we can see, employers can generally expect pre-employment background checks to take anywhere from 1-5 days depending on the type of check and other factors we covered. 

Checks taking longer than 5 days may indicate challenges like incomplete applicant data, government bureaucracy for motor vehicle records, out-of-state criminal searches, or delay tactics by the applicant. We’ll cover some ways to help speed up and improve turnaround times next.

Speeding Up Background Check Turnaround Times

For time-sensitive recruiting and critical business needs, there are a number of options employers can utilize to expedite background check turnaround times including:

Using an Online Portal

– Allows applicants to enter data directly, reducing errors

– Automates and accelerates data validation 

Providing Complete Information Upfront 

– Full legal names, addresses, employment details

– Helps prevent research delays

Following Up on Pending Items

– Proactively contact previous employers, schools 

– Have applicants contact licensing agencies to resolve license status

Paying for Expedited Service 

– Most vendors offer rush options for urgent cases

– Prioritizes your checks ahead of others

Choosing a Reputable Vendor

– Look for innovative tools, strongdatabases, and capacity

– Avoid slow manual processes  

Staggering Start Dates

– Avoid batching all new hires simultaneously

– Start highest priorities first, then stagger remaining

Here’s some additional detail on each option:

Online Portals – Leading background check vendors provide secure web-based portals that allow applicants to self-enter their personal information, education history, employment history, and legal names used. This helps reduce incomplete or inaccurate data that vendors have to backfill.

Portals also utilize data validation to catch mistakes in real-time, such as invalid license numbers or school names. This accelerates the process by reducing manual data cleanup downstream.

Complete Information Upfront – Rather than only collecting names and dates, have applicants provide their full legal names (including any aliases), complete past employment details (manager name, phone, etc), all addresses lived at in the past 7-10 years, and complete education details. Missing pieces create delays.

Proactive Follow-Ups – When employment or education verifications are stuck in pending status waiting on a response, have recruiters proactively contact those schools or employers to expedite. For license issues, have the applicant call the licensing agency to resolve any discrepancies.

Pay for Expedited Turnaround – Most background screening vendors offer expedited options that push urgent checks to the front of the queue. Fees vary based on how quickly it’s needed, but can help meet critical talent acquisition deadlines.

Choose a Reputable Vendor – Look for an industry leading background check company that leverages automation, robust databases, and solid operational capacity. Avoid vendors that rely on slow manual processes. Ask about average turnaround metrics.

Stagger Start Dates – If hiring multiple positions simultaneously, bring the highest priority roles on board first. Then stagger the start dates of the remaining new hires. Avoid batching all new backgrounds at once if speed is critical. 

Using a combination of the above techniques, it’s often possible to accelerate background check turnaround times from the typical 5-7 days to as fast as 24-48 hours for urgent needs. However, planning ahead and setting expectations remains key, which leads to our next section.

Managing Applicant Expectations on Timing

With applicant experience being critically important, it’s wise to set clear expectations upfront on how long the background check process could take to avoid frustrations.

Here are some best practices:

– Provide background check timing estimates in job postings

– Explain process and timeline during initial interviews

– Send guide on what to expect before background check begins 

– Give regular status updates if taking longer than expected

– Allow flexible start dates when possible

Being transparent that background checks commonly take 5-7 days, with some types taking longer, alleviates stress. Applicants also tend to be more patient when kept updated on status. Building in start date flexibility lets the process complete without pressuring the vendor.

With good communication, most applicants understand the necessity of due diligence background checks as long as the process moves forward consistently.

Background Check Turnaround Times by Industry 

Average background check turnaround times can also vary significantly based on the employer’s industry. Industries that require more extensive checks or have heavy volumes face longer timeframes including:

Transportation and warehousing – 7-10 days average

– DOT regulations require extensive checks before CDL holders can begin driving

Healthcare – 7-14 days 

– Additional sanctions checks required against exclusion lists 

Public sector – 10-14 days

– Deep criminal checks going back many years to meet stringent mandates

Staffing firms – 5-7 days

– Processing high volumes of temp applicants daily  

Retail and hospitality – 3-5 days

– Typically running large batches with quick turnarounds 

Tech – 4-6 days

– Quick education and employment verifications through online sources

Manufacturing – 5-7 days 

– Routine criminal checks plus drug screens required for safety

Finance – 10-14 days

– Deep criminal checks mandated by federal laws

When setting expectations, factoring in industry norms and regulatory requirements is important. Government and regulated sectors should plan for at least 10-14 days minimum.

Recent Trends Affecting Turnaround Times

Background check turnaround times have been impacted by several evolving trends including:

COVID-19 Impacts

– Remote work caused temporary delays in 2020

– Processes now back on track

Increased Use of Technology  

– More automation accelerating many checks

– Mobile apps provide faster applicant experience

Ban the Box Laws

– Delaying background checks until offer stage

– Adds more time between offer and start date 

Remote Work Flexibility

– Allows new hires to begin working pending background check results

– Reduces disruption from longer turnaround times

Here is some additional color on each dynamic:

COVID-19 Impacts – When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, many background screening vendors were impacted by remote work transitions, reduced staff capacity, and government office closures – which temporarily extended turnaround times by several days. However, the industry has since adjusted with most vendors back to normal turnaround times.

Increased Use of Technology – Vendors have been automating more components of the background check process using robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, and web-based tools. This is compressing turnaround times for many checks that were previously manual. Mobile apps also provide applicants an easier and faster experience.

Ban the Box Laws – Laws prohibiting criminal record questions on job applications until later in the hiring process lead some employers to delay background checks until the offer stage. This means final results are not received until a few days before start date rather than frontend. 

Remote Work Flexibility – The rise of remote and hybrid work models provides more flexibility for new hires to onboard and start working pending completion of the background check. This reduces disruption from elongated turnaround times.

Overall, technological improvements are creating modest efficiencies while regulatory changes are pushing screenings deeper into the hiring process – elongating the full timeline from application to start date.

Turnaround Time Metrics and Compliance 

It’s good practice for employers to track and monitor background check turnaround time metrics on an ongoing basis:

– By check type – Average time by criminal, employment, education check etc.

– By vendor – Compare vendors on speed and quality

– Volume trends – Monitor impact of volume spikes  

– Data accuracy – % of checks delayed by missing or incorrect applicant info

– Regulatory adherence – Ensure meeting requirements on turnaround  

Monitoring turnaround time internally helps employers identify process bottlenecks, data issues, vendor performance gaps, and compliance risks early before they escalate. Many background screening vendors also provide turnaround time reports.

Setting internal service level agreements (SLAs) for maximum turnaround times before escalating can also be beneficial – for example 5 days for standard checks, 2 days for urgent. Although unlike internal processes, vendors cannot fully guarantee turnaround times due to external dependencies. Still SLAs provide targets to optimize.  

Compliance wise, the FCRA requires background checks are completed promptly with adverse action communicated within pre-adverse and adverse action windows. Indiana, California, Washington and some cities have specific maximum turnaround limits. Know your regulatory requirements.