April 20th, 2021 | Sterling

How Long Does a Background Check Take?

Woman checking time her watch

Conducting criminal background checks on a prospective employee is a crucial part of any hiring process to help preserve your corporate culture and to build a foundation of trust and safety. Turnaround times from start to finish vary significantly by the type of searches needed, the company that provides them, and the speed at which the candidate provides required information.

While many employers want the quickest possible turnaround, it is more important to be both thorough and accurate. This helps to mitigate risk at a later date and increases the likelihood that employees will reflect the value of the company from the start.

Sterling prides itself on doing both. We complete 60% of criminal background checks within 15 minutes following credentialing, 70% within one hour, and 90% within one day. In most cases, the average turnaround time for education and employment verification is anywhere from three to five business days. While most criminal background checks run quickly and smoothly, there can be extenuating circumstances that may cause delays in the process, such as availability of records or unresponsiveness by past employers or academic institutions.

To understand turnaround time, it is important to recognize that there are multiple aspects to a pre-employment screening. Depending on the organization and its preferences and policies, as well as the industry and job responsibilities, criminal background checks can include elements such as identity verification, a criminal record check, reference checks, employment verification, education verification, motor vehicle record searches, drug testing, and/or a social media search. All of these aspects are important, and while they can run concurrently, they are independent of each other, and each element has the potential for delays.

It is also important to note that Sterling has an extensive partner ecosystem to help our clients save time. Sterling understands how complex HR workflows can be and we aim to simplify these workflows with the most technical integrations in the industry, increasing both efficiency and effectiveness.

Where Delays Can Occur

If your background screening company is doing their job properly, they will use methods to ensure the record they are reporting belongs to the person you are screening, is accurate and up-to-date, and is legally reportable. The typical background check is meant to verify whether or not a candidate is truthful about their criminal record, education, and employment history.

Identity verifications confirm that a background check is screening the right person – an important first step in the hiring process that typically takes minutes. Common factors that cause lags include what vendor you choose and the technology they utilize, reporting rules and regulations of an organization, and the method of fulfillment.

The best method for conducting criminal background checks is to research any county court/s where an individual has resided over the course of their adult life. There are about 3,300 counties in the United States, and unfortunately there is no reliable centralized database of criminal records. Sterling uses a combination of our propietary CourtDirect technology, which grants us digital access to 85% of US criminal search records, and our own team of court researchers to manually receive records when necessary. This is one of the reasons for our speed and accuracy. Potential delays in this area can occur when counties do not allow digital record access, when they mandate the research must be conducted by one of their own clerks, and/or when a criminal record is found.

When it comes to education and employment history verifications, results can take anywhere from one to three days. If a past employer doesn’t respond to a request in a timely matter, it is difficult to get through via a phone call, or if trying to verify high school education during summer months or holidays, delays may take place.

As an additional layer of protection against risk to the company and its employees, social media background check are one of the latest screening tools that employers are taking advantage of to further vet candidates. These searches help to reveal more about the individual beyond their resume – who they are as a person, their character, personality, and if they will reflect the company’s brand and culture standards, to name a few. We recently interviewed Ben Mones, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Fama.io, the world’s largest social media screening company, to get his take on the social media screening landscape today. He shared that Fama saw same-client report volumes increase by 150% in 2020 compared to 2019, and noted that they have seen a dramatic increase in the healthcare, education, and hospitality industries specifically over the past year. For example, hospitality executives recognize that each of their employees’ interactions with a customer is an opportunity to extend or detract from the corporate brand. Social media searches typically take one business day.

We at Sterling are proud of our fast turnaround times for all parts of a background check, and partner with clients when delays occur to help work through them as quickly as possible.

Candidate Experience is Paramount

It is important to remember that even those who have nothing to hide get a bit anxious about the background screening process, especially when delays occur, so it is important to be transparent with your candidates. Remember, since these are people you want to hire, it’s in your best interest to make sure that they have a positive candidate experience from start to finish. Let them know what you are looking for and the types of information that might concern you. Communicate that you have a process in place to ensure that the information you use is accurate and up-to-date. Lastly, let them know how long it generally takes to complete the process.

Candidates can complete their portion of the background check easily and quickly with our Candidate Hub. The intuitive, mobile-first design gives candidates on-the-go access from any device, anywhere, anytime, helping to minimize time spent on the screening process. A recent candidate who went through our background screening process noted that “the service was on time, efficient” and that Sterling was “very responsive with every step of the process.” While delays may occur along the way, every effort is made to avoid time wasted by both candidates and clients.

It is also worth noting that as an employer, you can and should expect assistance from your background screening company. They should be communicating delays to you in a timely matter, letting you know the nature of the delay, how to minimize them while maintaining accuracy and speed, when you can expect to see the results, and ultimately how to create a pleasant experience for the candidate. If you suspect the delays are due to your provider, ask for complete logs which detail a timeline of all actions taken to complete the search.

Background checks are an important undertaking for any employer. When they are done right, and when they are thorough, they become essential building blocks to establishing and preserving a strong culture and to creating a foundation of trust and safety.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.