pre employment background check how long does it take

Just how long does a pre-employment background check take, anyway? And what makes someone fail a background check after job offer?

With a pre employment background check, what shows up?

These are common questions for anyone entering the job market after a recent hiatus. And although 2 days is a common answer to how long a pre employment background check should take, this is not always the case.

In fact, there are a number of factors involved that can lengthen or shorten the time it takes to get a background check report back. Just a few include:

  • What level of background check is required for the job?
  • What state is the background check being run in?
  • What employment position is being considered?
  • What kinds of records are included in a criminal background check?

Understanding what’s involved is the first step to knowing the answer to ‘how long does a pre employment background check take.’

Hint: It’s not always two days.

How Long Does A Pre-Employment Background Check Take?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to the question: How long does a pre-employment background check take? In general, it depends on a number of factors such as the industry, company, and position being applied for.

However, the vast majority of background checks will take no more than 2 weeks to complete and most will be completed in 1 – to 3 days, which is where the 2-say rule comes from.

But, the reason that there is a range is that not all background checks are the same.

There are tons of different types of background checks that are performed these days and in many cases, they can be performed in many ways. For example:

And more…

What databases and information an employer chooses to check is what will play the biggest part in how long the background check takes. The more liabilities the job carries, the more checks will be performed, and the longer the background check will take.

Each job and industry will require slightly different checks for its employees. Since the main purpose of a background check is to protect the company financially and legally, each company will run different checks based on what their employees have access to, what service the business provides, and a number of other factors.

However, the average job does not carry a whole lot of liability from the point of view of the business.

Related Reading: How far back does a background check go for employment?

Cashiers, waiters, and even most desk jobs will simply not have access to a lot of information or be put in many situations that can damage the company or its employees in many ways.

This is why the majority of background checks are completed so quickly: only a few basic databases are checked to ensure the employee is not a blatant risk to fellow employees, customers, etc.

How Long Does It Take For A Pre Employment Background Check to Search Criminal Records?

A criminal records check is the second most common check that is performed as part of a pre-employment background check, only behind the verification of the applicant’s identity.

The vast majority of jobs will run a basic criminal record search on all of their applicants.

Assuming the business is using a third-party background check service to perform checks on their applicants, the criminal history check will be completed in 1 – 3 days.

Generally, the background check service will first verify the applicant’s identity and social security number, assuming the employer got written permission to do so which is required by the FCRA.1 With the identity verified the service will then use the individual’s name (and social security number) to run a name-based check through a variety of criminal databases, generally, those maintained by the state police, local law enforcement, and federal criminal databases.

The other common method for performing criminal background checks is the state police or FBI performing a fingerprint-based check2 of the individual.

In this case, the individual’s fingerprints will be taken and sent to the proper agency and checked against a fingerprint database.

This results in a more thorough check of the individual’s criminal history, however, the fingerprinting process and the check itself will take longer, adding up to a week to the total time the background check will take.

What Impacts a Pre Employment Background Check?

There are tons of different factors that will affect the answer to the question: How long does a pre-employment background check take? Below are some common factors and how they will affect the timeline of a background check.


The company that is performing the background check will play a major role in how long the check takes. Each company will perform its checks slightly differently as well as provide different kinds of checks.

Whereas some companies may make it their focus to provide background checks as soon as possible, others may specialize in more thorough checks that subsequently take an extra few days to complete.

Types of Checks

The types of checks that the company chooses to perform will be the biggest factor when it comes to how long the background check will take.

Although criminal databases are largely digitized and can be searched instantly, other checks may still take longer for various reasons.

Related Reading: Can background check reveal past employers?


The job that is being applied for will also make a big difference when it comes to “How long does a pre employment background check take?” Many jobs will require individuals to undergo certain background checks because of company policy and even state and federal laws.

For example, individuals working in child care3 are required to undergo extensive background checks including checks of fairly unique databases such as child abuse and neglect registries. These checks are required by federal law and many must be carried out by a specific government agency, putting the applicant at the mercy of one agency.

License Checks

Certain jobs will require license and certification checks, such as construction or real estate jobs. These professional license search reports can add to the timeline as well because they often require the person performing the background check to contact somewhere specifically to get the information verified.

Level of Check

The level of the check can also be a factor. Although most states do not make legal distinctions when it comes to background check levels, many background check companies will provide different levels of checks.

For example, a cashier at a company may only undergo a level 1 background check which is usually just identity verification and criminal history information, whereas an executive may undergo a level 2 check to ensure they have not recently declared bankruptcy or things of that nature.

Related Reading: How to find someone’s employment history


Verifying certain information on an application can also add a few days to a background check. For example, a job that wants to verify an applicant’s education history will be at the mercy of that institution to confirm that the individual attended and received a degree as their application states.

Other Factors

There are other smaller factors that can play a small role as well. Things like holidays, system crashes or a large influx in background checks can all cause delays in completing a background check.

What Does A Pre Employment Background Check Consist Of?

Pre employment background checks vary by company but the following checks are all considered fairly standard.

Although it is natural to feel nervous about background check processes, knowing what to expect and being able to answer questions like “how long does a pre-employment background check take?” will help make the ordeal a little less stressful.

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