Background Check Turnaround Time: How Long Does It Take?

Time is money, especially during the hiring process.  Quick on-boarding of an applicant and setting a start date is important to the successful operating of any organization.   Waiting around for results on an employment background check can be one of the final steps.  Sometimes there is a miscommunication on exactly how long the background check turnaround time is for a thorough and compliant  report.

Background Check Turnaround Time:
So, how long does a background check take?

The answer varies depending on the circumstances.

County Criminal Convictions
This is the most common method for conducting employment background checks.  On average this background check will take 30-36 hours. There are roughly 3,000 counties and jurisdictions  in the United States. Each has their own individual process of storing court records and other information that may be requested in a background check. Some of these counties are up-to-date with technology and post criminal convictions online. Others do not have the man-power or have a presence online and finding physical copies of the documents needed can slow the process.  Note: When no records are found, the turnaround time for this search, is usually substantially lower.

  • Clerk Run Searches– There are specific courts in the country that do not allow non-court personnel to conduct a criminal background check.  In these instances, the court researcher must rely upon a court clerk to perform the research on their behalf.  Unfortunately, court personnel do not always make this research a priority.  It’s not uncommon throughout the state of New Hampshire or in the city of Los Angeles, CA for searches without records to take more than a week to complete.  That can sometimes take in excess of two weeks. Other areas that are well-known for clerk run searches are Phoenix, Arizona various counties throughout Northern California and the state of Michigan.

Employment and Education Verifications
Employment verification is dependent upon human interaction. Usually this process takes no more than two days, but there can be delays. Sometimes an employer doesn’t respond or may be out of the office when the information is requested. Education verifications can be delayed during the summer, holidays or other breaks when schools might be closed. On average these requests also take a couple of days.

Direct Web Interface
When using a direct court interface, the results are available instantly.  However, don’t get too excited over this.  There are two important things to consider:

  1. MBI has found that only approximately 25% of counties in the United States offer a service that is as good as, or better than, physical research.
  2. These searches are great when no record is found but if there are records, there is usually a lot of raw data that needs to be sifted through by MBI’s criminal researchers before reporting.

International (Global) Background Checks
A background check being done on a candidate who has lived outside the United States will have an even longer turnaround time. Expect that process to take ten to 20 days, depending on the number of countries involved.

Expedite the Process
One way to speed up the employment screening process and prevent possible delays is to have the candidate provide pertinent information during the hiring process.   
Asking these important questions (and passing this information along to your employment screening company) will help expedite the turnaround time of the final results data:

  • Ask for former employers and their contact information
  • Ask for previous address(es)
  • Ask for any other spelling of name. (i.e. if her legal name is “Veronica” and she goes by “Roni” – it will be more difficult to get a name/DOB match to data, or the data can be completely skewed.

Advice for the HR Professional:

  • Make sure to calculate the turnaround time into your hiring process to conduct a thorough criminal background check. Although some results can come back immediately, some will not.  Assume that your total  background check will be completed in 30 to 96 business hours.  MBI Worldwide’s average turnaround time is 32 hours.
  • Do not take shortcuts in your screening process.  If it sounds too good to be true (i.e. instant background checks or guarantees on exactly how long a search will take), it most definitely is in fact, too good to be true.
  • Identify a screening partner willing to update you when a search is delayed.  It’s a service business and you should not have to chase them down.
  • Be open and honest with the candidate if delays occur during the screening process. This will help put the candidate at ease and let him/her know what’s happening.
  • If something comes up during the background check that keeps the applicant from being hired, you’re obligated to let the person know. That person then has the option to dispute the findings.

The good news is the complete results of a thorough and compliant employment screening report can be in your hands in less than three business days.  To find out more information, and the services offered by MBI Worldwide, please visit our website at www.mbiworldwide.com.


Kandi Chapman is President and Founder of MBI Worldwide, a global employment background screening company.  She has been nationally recognized by The National Women Business Owners Corporation for implementing positive company culture within her organization, and was honored as  one of St. Louisans Top 100 People To Know To Succeed In Business in 2015.