8 Min Read

How long do background checks take?

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Written by David Garcia



As a recruiter, you work very hard to source great talent for your company.  Has the following scenario ever happened to you? You expect a background check to take a certain amount of time, usually no more than 1-2 days, but then you don’t hear anything for three days or even longer.  You follow-up with your background check vendor, but they are either unresponsive or don’t give you a clear answer. Your hard earned candidate gets frustrated and ends up taking another job.  This is a worst case scenario of how a delayed background check can hurt the recruitment process.  This article helps you understand how long checks should take, how to reduce the risk of delayed checks, and how best to manage candidate expectations.

How long should a background check take?

A background check typically takes 1-3 business days.  However, background checks can take much longer, up to 14 business days or more, depending on a variety of factors.  It is critical that you understand what drives the turnaround time (TAT) for a background check so you can manage a candidate’s expectations, plan your candidate pipeline accordingly, and accurately schedule onboarding.  

What are the causes of delays at the component level? 

There are many factors that drive delays in background check turnaround times, which are often completely outside the control of an employer or their background check vendor.  Below are the factors we encounter most frequently:

  • Candidate Authorization.  Candidates have to sign authorizations for you to perform a background check.
  • County Court Information. Some courts return information on a candidate in one business day, while others can take days or even weeks. 
  • Manual Verifications.  Educational institutions and employers can subscribe to online databases (like the National Student Clearinghouse) for easy access to information, but many do not...meaning these verifications have to be done manually by your background check provider.
  • Candidate Drug Test Scheduling.  Candidates often need to go to a physical clinic to take their drug tests.
  • Drug Test Clinic Delays. Depending on the results of a specimen, drug test results may not come back quickly.



Why do these components cause background check delays? 

It is important for you to understand the root cause of delays and, more importantly, determine if you and your background check partner can reduce them.  Here, we’ll examine the underlying reasons some components can have delays.

  • Candidate Authorization. Many employers utilize their background check vendor’s technology platforms to complete authorizations.  Typically, a candidate is emailed a series of documents they can review and authorize on their smartphone.  This functionality is very efficient, enabling electronic communications with candidates and storing all the information in a secure environment with a date/time stamp.  The challenge comes in when a candidate does not complete the authorization...as the process cannot begin until that happens.  If the candidate waits two days before signing...that automatically adds two days onto the background check.


  • County Criminal and Civil Records.  Of the approximately 3,300 counties in the United States, roughly two-thirds have online portals that share criminal and civil case information.  Within these counties, background screening vendors can usually return results very quickly, typically in less than one business day.  Delays occur when the information a county provides does not contain enough identifiers or if someone needs to physically go into a courthouse to retrieve a record.  When that happens, it can take multiple days, even weeks, to retrieve the records.  For a list of average turnaround times by U.S. county, please click here. (Note that these times can change, so always check with your provider to an up-to-date list).


  • Verifications. Employment and education verifications can drive delays based on the candidate’s history.  For education verifications, university level degrees typically return in one day, as most institutions participate in the National Student Clearinghouse. Education verifications are often most challenging at the high school level.  Verifiers frequently need to reach out to schools and may have to work with candidates to obtain transcripts.  Many background screening vendors will try to outsource this work back to recruiters, so it is important to work with a partner who will do the extra work to complete the verification.  These types of verifications can take three or four business days.  Employment verifications are very similar.  Larger employers often subscribe to third party databases that offer virtually instantaneous results.  However, small and mid-size companies, as well as companies that have gone out of business, require much more manual intervention. In these cases, a verifier has to reach out to these companies or work with candidates to source W2s and other types of documentation.  These verifications can often take up to five days.


  • Candidate Drug Test Scheduling. If a background check has a drug test component, a candidate will likely have to go to a clinic location to provide a specimen.  While many candidates go the same day, often candidates will delay going into a clinic for a variety of reasons.  The drug test “clock” obviously can’t start ticking until a candidate goes to a clinic.


  • Drug Test Clinic Delays. While many drug tests, particularly instant products, return results within a day of specimen collection, some tests seem to just drag on.  While drug tests often seem to take longer because the candidate waited a day or two before going into a clinic, delays can also be caused by a variety of other factors.  If a candidate has a positive result the report needs to be reviewed with a Medical Review Officer (MRO), or the clinic may have lost the specimen (it happens…), or the clinic may just be backed up.  All of these situations can create delays.

How can you reduce the impact of delayed background checks?

Background check delays are inevitable, given some of the industry constraints.  However, you can minimize their impact and better manage candidate expectations by working closely with your background check partner. Please note, not all background check firms are willing to provide this level of service, so be sure to map out these expectations with your vendor partners.

  • Candidate Authorization Delays. Develop a process with your vendor that puts a time limit on how long a candidate has to authorize their documentation.  Your recruiters should reinforce the message to candidates that their employment may be delayed if they do not authorize their consents promptly.  Additionally, a good background check partner will also follow up with candidates on your behalf, typically after 1-2 days.


  • County Records Delays. Develop a process with your vendor that notifies the requestor via email about a delay and the expected revised TAT.  Some background check platforms will have generic TATs at the component level, but these are often based on industry averages, versus a researcher who has actually spoken with a court runner.  With this information, you can then manage candidate expectations regarding a delay...and that applying for a job somewhere else will result in a similar challenge.


  • Verifications.  If a verification isn’t in a third party database (e.g. Equifax’s The Work Number) and if the background check vendor is running into challenges (e.g. a former place of employment is out of business), develop a process for the vendor to notify the requestor.  Many background check companies will, unfortunately, just close out a verification.  This is why you want to ask for an “unable-to-verify” (UTV) rate of a vendor’s verification performance.  If the UTV is over 10%, they are just outsourcing their work back to your recruiters. Having a proactive partner inform the recruiter of the issue allows your recruiter to determine whether an alternate means of verification can be achieved to close out the verification process (e.g. an old W2) to keep the candidate moving.


  • Taking a Drug Test.  Frequently, a candidate will take several days before going into a clinic for a drug test.  In addition to having the recruiter set expectations that the test will be taken the same day or the next day at the latest, your background check partner can also help.  A good background check partner should notify the candidate daily with a gentle reminder to take the drug test. This both removes a task from your recruiter and keeps the process moving.


  • Drug Test Results.  If you are not using an instant drug test, results can take between one and three days to come back.  If there is a positive result (meaning there was a substance detected) a medical review officer needs to review the findings and potentially discuss with the candidate whether any prescription medications were involved.  In order to mitigate these delays, you should set up a process with your background check partner to proactively follow up with a clinic three days post specimen collection (unless you have heard back already, of course).  This will help you understand if there is a delay with the drug test vendor (and then the background screening partner can further escalate) or if there is a test in a medical review process.



As a recruiting leader, your job is to find great talent for your company as efficiently as possible.  You need a background check partner who makes your life easier so you can fulfill your primary role.  The last thing you need to do is chase down background checks. That is why you want to look for a background screening partner that proactively communicates delayed background checks and, more importantly, tries to accelerate their return.  Delayed background checks are inevitable for the various reasons we shared, but how your partner helps you navigate them makes all the difference in a great partnership.  

Are your background checks taking too long?

All of this is just a start when it comes to determining whether your background checks are taking too long.  Have a question or need help understanding your background screening program turnaround times relative to industry averages? Click below to work with one of our Scouts to help benchmark your current program’s speed.





ScoutLogic is not a law firm.  You should always check with qualified counsel before you make any changes to your background check program.  If you need a qualified attorney, we would be happy to make a referral for you.