How Long Does a Background Check Take?

Danielle Hubein
May 22, 2023
5 min read

The interview process is often followed by a background check to assess a candidate’s qualifications and eligibility for the role. With many background screening options available, how long a background check takes may depend on the scope of the search, location and availability of records, and whether you’re searching on your own or through a consumer reporting agency (CRA).

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How long does a background check take?

The industry turnaround time for background screenings is 3-5 business days when working with a CRA. However, some database screenings, such as National Criminal Records Checks and Sex Offender Registry Checks, may be returned in minutes. The number of screenings, employer and candidate location, and required searches (such as fingerprint checks) may also affect the timing.

Below are approximate timelines for how long common background checks take:

Type of screeningAverage turnaround time
Employment background check
(a more comprehensive report that typically includes multiple screenings)
>1 hour to 1-5 days
Criminal background check1-3 days
Employment verification1-3 minutes (quick verification) to 2-7 days (manual entry)
Reference checks2-5 days
Driving record (MVR) check>1 hour to 1-3 business days
Drug testing10 minutes (onsite) to 3-10 days (lab-based)

Checkr leads the industry with some of the fastest background check turnaround times thanks to a real-time, proprietary data network and extensive partnerships with court runners. Further, Checkr’s ETA tool uses advanced technology to provide an estimated turnaround time for each background check report at the county level. This transparency into the status of the check gives employers and candidates a clearer picture of how long a background check may take.

How long does an employment background check take?

How long a pre-employment check takes may vary from minutes to several business days, depending on the comprehensiveness of the search. An employment background check may include a variety of screenings, including a criminal record search, verification of work and education history, driving records check, drug testing, and more. The more comprehensive the background check, the longer it may take to receive the full report. International background checks can take up to 2-3 weeks to complete.

Several factors can impact the turnaround time, such as inaccurate or incomplete information from the candidate. County courthouse operations, such as those with non-digitized records that require a court runner to review records, can also add to the turnaround time.

Additionally, choosing to perform employment background checks yourself is often a time consuming process for any HR team. It can take weeks to request and review public records, contact previous employers, and coordinate drug testing.

How long does a criminal background check take?

Typically, the turnaround time for a criminal background check is 1-3 days, but may be returned sooner depending on the check and the process or provider you use. For example, 98% of nationwide criminal records checks complete within one hour at Checkr.

Criminal background checks may involve some or all of the following:

The type of criminal background check you’re conducting and your location will ultimately determine how long a criminal background check takes. For example, if a national background check points to a candidate potentially having a criminal record, county records are often searched to verify. This process may add a few days to several weeks to the overall completion time.

Criminal record checks help employers confirm a candidate’s eligibility and fit for the role, while mitigating risk and prioritizing workplace safety. The screening generally involves searching court records to report a candidate’s criminal history and may include felony and misdemeanor convictions.

How long does employment verification take?

How long an employment verification takes depends on whether you contact employers yourself or use a background check provider, like Checkr. If you choose to contact employers directly, it may take days or weeks to receive responses. How long employment verification takes may also depend on the number of previous employers that need to be contacted.

Using a professional background check provider can help streamline the process, with standard reports typically returned in 2-5 business days. Checkr offers candidate’s the option to sign in to their payroll provider directly through our quick verification option, with these reports typically completing in 1-3 minutes. If a candidate requests that their current employer not be contacted, candidates may be asked to submit supporting documentation such as W-2s, 1099, or pay stubs, which may add up to a week to the turnaround time.

Employment verification screenings confirm a candidate’s prior work experience. This helps to ensure individuals have the right skills and experience needed for specific positions and helps you confirm the accuracy of the information they’ve listed on their resume. Additionally, the screening typically involves searching databases, verifying employment documents, or contacting previous employers to confirm start and end dates, and job title(s) held. If not prohibited by law, salary history may also be included.

How long do reference checks take?

If you decide to use a background check provider, reference checks may be completed in 2-5 business days. Should you choose to do it yourself, the process may take a few weeks.

The time to complete a reference check depends upon the availability of the person providing the reference and the format in which you conduct the check. For example, when conducting a reference check over the phone, the initial call might take up to 30 minutes. When performing a check via email, it may take several days before receiving a reply.

Reference checks are used to provide greater insight into a candidate’s job performance, skills, and character. Typically, the process involves requesting a list of references from the candidate and obtaining permission to contact them, then scheduling time with each to discuss predetermined questions.

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Background checks are often an important step when making informed hiring decisions—but slow turnaround times and delays can keep employers from filling critical roles, fast. Checkr’s advanced background check platform and real-time data network improves speed and accuracy to enable employers to hire faster and fairer. While the turnaround time for each screening type varies, 84% of our reports are completed in under 15 minutes and 95% are completed in under 24 hours. Our multiple screening options and customizable packages help businesses of all sizes scale their hiring with comprehensive, efficient background checks.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

As Compliance Manager, Danielle analyzes the ever-changing laws and regulations affecting background screening to ensure that Checkr and its customers stay compliant. She also writes content to educate employers about background checks, screening best practices, and fair hiring laws. 

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