Employment Screening FAQ Series: What’s Taking So Long?

what's taking so long?

The hiring process always seems to take longer than you want it to, so when you finally have acceptance on a contingent job offer, you don’t want any further delays. If you expect every background screening report to come back within 24 hours, however, you may be in for some disappointment. Some background checks can take a few days or longer to complete.

In today’s edition of our employment screening FAQ series, we explain why some background checks take longer than others.

Question: Why do some background checks take 24 hours while others take several days or more?

When it comes to hiring, time is of the essence. Every day spent with an unfilled position may be costing your business money. The last thing you need is a background check that eats up more precious time. But the very last thing you need is to make an ill-informed hiring decision. The average report turnaround is 48 hours to a week, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, yet some reports can take weeks to process. So, what accounts for these differences in turnaround times?

Answer: Data sources, depth of screening, and candidate background can all influence the timing of report availability.

There are several variables that can affect the turnaround time for an employment background check. Here are some:

Data Sources: Online vs Manual Searches

In an ideal world, we could access all the background records you need over the Internet and quickly dispatch completed reports to employers. Unfortunately, the reality is that much of the data housed within the 3000+ courthouses in the US hasn’t yet been digitized or has not been made available online. In these scenarios, our researchers must physically go to the courthouse to hand-search dockets, obtain records through an on-site portal, or wait for a clerk to pull the necessary information. Depending on the county or case, manual searches can take anywhere from 3 to 30 days to complete.

Candidate Geographic History

Report turnaround time is often driven by where a candidate has worked, lived, or gone to school within the scope (length of time researched) of the search. If a candidate was born in the US, went to school in England, and worked in Germany, it may take days or weeks for those countries, educational institutions, and employers to process records. In some cases, documentation must be picked up in person or must be further validated, which adds to the delay. The same logic applies to a candidate’s residence history within the US.

Position Profile/Depth of Background Check

How long the screening process takes depends on what the employer wants to accomplish. Generally speaking, the higher the level of trust and responsibility of the position, the more comprehensive the check will be. For example, chief financial officers and other positions that deal with financial matters will most likely require a full background check, including a search of federal criminal records. Government positions, executive-level hires, and people who handle sensitive data may also fall into this category. The deeper the records check, the longer the reporting timeframe.

The turnaround time is also influenced by how many jurisdictions need to be searched for a particular candidate, whether the scope is 7 years or 10 years, and whether past employers still exist or have gone out of business.

Redaction of Personal Identifiable Information

An important consideration when it comes to turnaround time is the growing trend toward removing personally identifiable information (PII) from court records. As the nation adopts increasingly stringent privacy legislation, many courts have followed suit by re-evaluating and changing public access records policies to more strongly protect PII. Tightening access or redacting PII from public indexes stems from a desire to protect individual privacy and reduce the potential for identity theft. However, it also impacts turnaround time for criminal records screening by making it more difficult or sometimes impossible to match a record to an individual with 100% accuracy.

Other Variables

In addition to the reasons stated above, if a background check is taking longer than a few days, it could be due to some of these common administrative obstacles:

Hits: When there is a potential “hit” on a record, the researcher needs more time to verify the record.  

Incomplete Forms or Lack of Authorization: Simple human error can delay reports, for example, if an employer makes a mistake in the background check order form process.

Aliases and Name Variances: Differences in names (e.g., Robert, Bob, Bobby) or use of different names in the past (e.g., given name vs married name) can require manual confirmation and lead to delays.

Source of Data: Verifying previous employment, checking college transcripts, and implementing criminal records searches entail a combination of manual and online interactions that add to the overall time involved in reporting.  Keep in mind, also, that some organizations and some staff will be more efficient and responsive than others.

Speed of hire is critical to getting a new person in the door. You don’t want to run the risk of losing a candidate because a background report took too long to complete, but at the same time, you do need accurate information to make the best possible hiring decision. Your background screening company should be able to give you accurate turnaround times so you can better manage the expectations of your candidates and hiring managers.

If you’d like to get a sense of how long a typical background check might take for one of your positions, please contact us.

About Michael Gaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
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