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How long do pre-employment background checks take?

How long do pre-employment background checks take?

Background checks are the only way to see beyond the innocuous smiles that characterize job interviews. They are particularly important if the prospective employee is going to be handling proprietary information, or caring for kids and aged folks.

Background checks are the only way to see beyond the innocuous smiles that characterize job interviews. They are particularly important if the prospective employee is going to be handling proprietary information.

A background check is a way by which employers can verify information provided by prospective employees. Usually, many employers primarily concern themselves with prospective employees’ criminal records. However, for some more sensitive positions; education and employment histories must also be looked into.

Depending on the type, a background check could take anywhere between a few minutes and 5 business days. In this article, we will be explaining the various types of background checks. We will also highlight a few factors that cause delays and explain how to make the process smoother.

Types of background checks


Employment background checks

Full employment background checks can include;

  • Criminal record checks
  • Work history
  • Education verification
  • Credit history
  • Driving records
  • Social media presence
  • Medical history

All of these depend on the level of job opening being filled for. Lower-level jobs might require just a simple criminal records check.

Some of these checks can be done instantly if the needed records are digitized. However, some records, especially those gathered by local counties, may not be digitized and will require manual searches. Those are usually completed in five business days. However, some counties and organizations do not have set turnaround times and it could take much longer than that.

Instant background checks

Instant background checks are the favorite of many. This is due to its relatively low cost and quick turnaround time. It only takes a few minutes to get records. However, its results cannot provide a full understanding of a candidate’s history. This is because some records can only be accessed with written applications. 

So, an instant background check is not advisable if the candidate is going to be occupying a sensitive position. Instant background checks only include;

  • A search of the National Criminal Database
  • Verification of the applicant’s social security numbers
  • A search of the sex offender registry. 

Criminal background checks

For more sensitive positions, criminal background checks are advisable. You want to make sure that your model applicant isn’t hiding an extensive criminal profile under the façade. Criminal history checks cover everything included in instant checks but also, include other more extensive checks. Criminal history checks are usually completed between 1 and 3 working days. A criminal background check will include a search of;

  • The National Criminal Database
  • The sex offender registry
  • Criminal records at the county level
  • Domestic and global watch lists
  • Criminal records at the state level

These are particularly important for employers that, by regulation, can’t hire convicted felons. Criminal background checks provide records from up to seven years prior. They will inform you about any court charge that might have been brought against the applicant. This includes convictions, acquittals, and pending charges. 

Education history verification

Employment is usually more about work experience than education certificates. However, for some positions, education history verification is very important. 

For example, if you are employing someone to work healthcare, you should verify their licenses. You must be sure that not only are their licenses genuine but that they are not suspended or have any similar taints. The same goes for any other profession that requires licenses.

There is one small drag though. Not all schools have digitized records. So, the verification process might have to be manual. This may take anything between a few days and a few weeks.

Employment history verification

If your prospective employee includes employment history in their resume, you want to make sure that they did work there. This is particularly important for jobs that require specific on-the-job experience. You don’t want to hire a surgeon only to discover that he was a GP at his previous employment.

Some employment history information that you should verify include positions held, responsibilities, and the reason for leaving. This might also take a couple of business days or it might not. It depends on how the organization handles files and whether they have any set turnaround times.

Reference check

If your applicant list references, you should contact them for further information. There is no specific turnaround time for this type of background check. It depends on the referees and their preferred method of communication. 

You should know that a referee check alone is not absolute proof of character. For all you know, the applicant might have coached the referees. So, if you are going to do a referee check, it should be in conjunction with a more thorough method of checks.

What causes delays

There are about 3 factors that could cause delays in the verification process. We explain them below

Inaccurate, incomplete check request forms. 

Background checks could be held up by incomplete or inaccurate forms. You might have misspelled names. If you think an application is taking too long, you should check in to ensure that you submitted accurate information.

Absence of necessary authorization

By federal law, background checks cannot be done without authorization from the applicant. Applicants must be notified by letter about impending background checks. Then, they must turn in the authorization and release forms. A background check request won’t be completed if it is submitted without these necessary authorizations.

Common names

Background checks can also get slowed down when there is confusion due to common names. You can avoid this by including the applicant’s middle names and other unique identifiers in the requests.

How do you make checks run smoother?

The most important thing you need to do is ensure that you gather all the necessary information in full. Explain the process to the applicants. Let them know the information required of them and why it is required. And when you have done that, you can have your hiring staff double-check the forms.

However, the best way to smoothen the process is to employ automation. You can automate the whole process of hiring and onboarding in Slack with the AhoyTeam workflow product.


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