January 29th, 2024 | Sterling

How Long Does a Background Check Take?

Woman checking time her watch

Conducting criminal background checks on prospective employees is a crucial part of any hiring process to help build a foundation of trust and safety for your company. 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 the required information.

While most employers want the quickest possible turnaround, it is also important for the screening to be thorough and accurate. This helps to mitigate risk later and increases the likelihood that employees will reflect the values of the company from the start.

While most background checks usually run quickly and smoothly, there can be extenuating circumstances that may cause delays in the process. For example:

  • Criminal background checks can be delayed when necessary records are only available at or require additional research at the court.
  • Verifications can be delayed by unresponsive past employers or academic institutions.

To understand turnaround time, it’s important to recognize that there are multiple elements to pre-employment screening. Depending on the organization and its preferences and policies, as well as the industry and job responsibilities, background checks can commonly include:

  • Identity verification
  • Criminal background checks
  • Reference checks
  • Employment and/or education verifications
  • Motor vehicle record searches
  • Drug testing  
  • Other background check services

 All of these searches are important, and while they can run concurrently, they are independent of each other, and each component has the potential for delays.

Where Delays Can Occur

If your background screening company is doing their job properly, they will use procedures to ensure accuracy in returning records that belong to the person you are screening, are up-to-date, and are legally reportable.

Identity verification at the start of the background check helps confirm the candidate’s identity and their associated data. It’s an important first step in the hiring process that, if performed digitally, takes approximately 90 seconds or less1. Performing identity verification before screening helps facilitate faster and more complete results because it pre-populates verified data into the background check, reducing downstream delays associated with incorrect or incomplete information.

The best method for conducting US criminal background checks is to research the county court/s where an individual has resided over the course of their adult life. There are over 3,240 counties and county equivalents2 in the United States, and unfortunately there is no reliable centralized database of county criminal records. Sterling uses a combination of our proprietary CourtDirect technology, which grants us digital access to 89%1 of the US criminal records we search, and our own in-house team of court researchers to manually retrieve records when necessary. By owning our own processes and automating where possible, we keep the focus on Sterling clients. This is key to how we avoid preventable delays and deliver on both speed and accuracy.

Unavoidable delays still happen in the criminal check process; in some counties, digital record access is not permitted and a visit to the court is required. Courts can require their own clerks to do the research, limiting availability and further increasing turnaround time. Additionally, when a criminal record is found, it may require further research at the court, which delays the delivery of results.

When it comes to education and employment verifications, results typically are returned within one to three days1. Sterling is enabling automation technology like standardized data collection using prefill and tech-enabled contact research in our verification processes to help eliminate preventable delays.

Unavoidable delays can be a part of verifications. They often rely on the response of the verifying source, and this can be a common source of delay for these services. If a past employer doesn’t respond to a request in a timely matter, employment verification results will take longer. Education verifications, especially for high schools, can be delayed during summer months or holidays, or when the school verification processes require use of mail.

At Sterling, we’re proud of our dedication to innovative technology that helps us deliver industry-leading turnaround times for our background checks. When delays do occur, we partner closely with our clients to help work through them as quickly as possible.

Candidate Experience is Paramount

It’s important to remember that even those who have nothing to hide get anxious about the background screening process, especially when delays occur, so being transparent with your candidates is essential. Keep in mind that a positive candidate experience from start to finish will help you deliver hiring success. 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 background check process.

Sterling’s Hiring Reimagined research report surveyed more than 3,700 recent job seekers, 71% of whom said they considered dropping out or actually dropped out of their most recent hiring experience. Why? The process took too long and was too complicated. This sentiment is eye-opening but provides opportunity.

Candidates can complete their portion of the background check easily and quickly within our Candidate Hub. The intuitive, mobile-first design gives candidates on-the-go access from any device, anywhere, anytime, helping to minimize their time spent on the screening process. A recent candidate who went through our background screening process noted that “the service was on time and 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 wasting your and the candidate’s time.

For the third year in a row, Sterling won the HR Tech Award for Best Comprehensive Solution for Enterprises. Our Candidate Hub was recognized for putting “power and transparency in the hands of every candidate, enabling them to see their progress at any time. This is what a modern background check should look like,” shared by Ben Eubanks, Chief Research Officer, Lighthouse Research & Advisory.

It’s also worth noting that as the employer, you can and should expect assistance from your background screening company. As your business partner, they should be communicating delays to you in a timely matter, letting you know the nature of the delay, how to minimize the occurrence of delays 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, they become essential building blocks to establishing and preserving a strong company culture and to creating a foundation of trust and safety for your organization.

Click below to learn how Sterling’s tech-enabled criminal background screening services are optimized to help your organization accelerate hiring and create a culture of trust and safety or contact us today.

1Sterling Corporate Stats, 2023

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.