Posted: 10/17/12

How long does a background check take?

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Dear Dr. Background Check

I have had 3 different sets of interviews over 4 weeks, and I think I am close to getting the job.  Two weeks ago on 10/7/12, they said they were performing a background check on me.  Its now 10 days later, and I haven’t heard from them.  I’m now worried.  Was there something in my background?  I’m thinking of doing a background check on myself to see what is there

Sincerely,
My strength is my work ethic, my weakness is impatience

Dear Impatient,

Congrats on getting to the background check stage of the interview – many employers will only spend the money on a background check when they are ready to make an offer.  Typically (but not always) they only do a background check on you if they are really interested.  Getting a background check is a good sign.  (PROTIP:  If you are worried about your background check, you can do an instant national background check for $19.95 on our site – your results come back instantly, and it could put your mind at ease – it may also alert you to some errors on your background check that could be held against you.)

At most companies, background checks can take a while. It is not uncommon to wait two weeks or more.

The biggest slow down on background checks is when an employer directly searches county records.  There are some 3,000 counties in the US, and there isn’t a central database of county criminal records, therefore each county has to be contacted individually.   Some counties don’t even allow phone/email/fax requests and require an individual  to physically go the county courthouse and pull the record (which seems like something from the 1950’s).  On average most employers get county record searches back within 5 days, but some take longer.   I’m currently performing a background check that includes a county courthouse search for a county in Texas.  This check started on 10/12/12, and we just received word it will be back to us on 10/22/12.

Other than your county records, a typical background check is often more than just searching a criminal background, it also includes reference checks, employment verification, degree verification and more- even social media checks.  All of these can take time (especially trying to get references on the phone).

What is even more likely is, the HR person or hiring manager has been slow to get the paperwork done, or it’s tied up on someone’s desk.  You may have multiple people in HR who work on onboarding people, and as things get passed around, and vacations and illnesses happen, it can delay things.

The other thing that can hold you up is, the next step for you is an offer letter and a dollar amount.  This too can take some time, they may have received the results from their background check last week, but, are still working to get the dollar amount right, and may be waiting on final approval from all involved.

The Doctor recommends not worrying too much about the delay in getting back to you after your background check, it’s probably benign. The time frames you’ve mentioned aren’t at all unusual, so there isn’t much reason to worry.

One other thing that may be reassuring is that, if you didn’t get the job because of  a criminal background check, or credit check, they legally have to tell you if they did not hire you because of your criminal or credit background check – and they have to give you a chance to dispute it.

Good Luck!

Doctor Background check is not a doctor, nor a lawyer but he does hold an advance degree from a real honest to goodness university that doesn’t have ‘hamburger’ in it’s title. His advice (especially advice about love life) is for amusement purposes only. The Doctor does not recommend or condone lying about your background or deceiving employers in any way. The Doctor does not condone ‘Brunch’. The Doctor recommends consulting with a lawyer for any difficult issues regarding job applications and employment. The Doctor has been banned from Ontario Canada but doesn’t resent Canadians for it.

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