Background Check Duration: What to Expect

Marsha Hebert, professional resume writer
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You’ve jumped through plenty of hoops — the application and the interview — and now the hiring manager wants one more thing: a background check. If you’re new to the world of job-seeking, you may not have come across this before now. Don’t let it spook you. 

If you want to know more about pre-employment screening and background checks, you’ve come to the right place. In the following guide, we’ll cover what a background check is, why it matters to both you and the employer, and exactly how long it takes for a background check to come back.

What is a background check?

First up, let’s deal with the basics: What is a background check? 

The simplest explanation is that this is a process that an employer goes through to verify that you are who you say you are. It also checks certain things, such as whether you have a criminal record, your educational status, your employment history, and any other miscellaneous information (including credit status for some jobs). 

An employment background check is usually a good sign. Many employers will only conduct a background check at the later stages of the hiring process when they’re comparing one or two job applicants. This leaves many job seekers asking what the standard background check duration is and how soon they might expect a job offer!

Expert Tip

Are you about to get hired? If the hiring manager is running a background check, that means that you are far along the application process. However, it is not a guarantee that you are about to get a job offer. Read our guide on what a background check means for you here.

Why do employers do background checks?

Chances are, you are 100% honest about who you are and your background. Most candidates are. However, when employers are looking to hire new people, they have to consider a multitude of factors. Here are some of the reasons they carry out the checks: 

Fraud prevention 

Whether someone is using an entirely false identity or using fake references, that can pose a real threat to the business. Employers use background checks to make sure that all of the information a person has given is accurate. Ensuring that each new hire has been fully background checked is a savvy move and can prevent issues down the line. 


It’s important to make sure that the details you have given them are true and to guarantee that you don’t pose any risk to either the staff or business. When an employer hires a new staff member, they are assuming responsibility for them. Should anything go wrong after the fact, it will be their neck that is on the line. For that reason, conducting a thorough background check has become common across many modern-day industries. 

Information gathering 

While your resume paints a basic picture of your professional standing, it may not give the employer all the details that they need. Should the hiring manager need more information about you or your experiences, they may find this in the background check itself. As we have mentioned, this process will uncover information about your education, employment, and any criminal charges. That means that an employer can get a clear view of things. 

Laws and regulations 

In specific industries — such as those where you have contact with children or vulnerable individuals — you will find that background checks are the norm. Often enough, this is because of certain state laws or guidelines. 

The employer may have no choice but to run a background check before they can onboard a new member of staff. Keep in mind that the sector in which you work may determine how likely you are to need a background check.

How long are most background checks?

Next up, let’s talk about the background check duration and timing. 

As a golden rule, pre-employment background checks usually take two to five business days

Worried that your checks are taking ages? 

There are a few factors that can make the turnaround times longer or delay a job candidate from hearing about the results. 

For example, if the process involves contacting a previous employer and they take a while to deal with the query, you may find that it slows things down, increasing the background check duration. While much of the background check process is automated, there is always room for human error. Don’t panic if it’s slower than you expect. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem. 

While two to five business days is how long it generally takes for the potential employer to get the results back, don't expect a reply right away. The hiring manager may have a wealth of other tasks they need to deal with before they come back to you with their final answer. It may take one to two weeks to hear back after a background check is complete.

It’s important to remember that a background check is usually a good sign that the company is seriously considering you for the position. Let’s take a look at some other common questions regarding a background check during the screening process.

What are they checking for?

If you’ve never had a background check before now, you may have no clue what the employer is looking for. Background checks are rarely free, so the fact that they are investing in one on your behalf is positive. 

Here’s what a standard check includes: 

1. Past employment history

The employer may be checking to verify that all of your experience listed matches your records. To help things along the way, make sure that all of the dates and company names/titles listed on your resume are accurate. That way, when the employer runs the check, your application will correlate with the information that they have on their file. When prospective employers have to connect with former employers to verify employment, the timeline of your former employers’ responses impacts the background check duration. 

2. Education

It doesn’t end there. The employer may also verify that you earned the degree, or degrees, listed on your resume or job application. There’s no room for error here. 

Lying about your education is a serious offense that could get you in trouble so ensure that the education section of your resume is accurate and up to date. Whenever you are updating your resume, take the time to go over your education section and ensure it is correct. 

3. Criminal record

This one is straightforward — most employers will check your criminal records before making an offer. Often enough, you will find that a background check shows any charges that you have against your name. If they run the checks and find that you have a criminal record, it may mean that they choose not to offer you the job for which you’re applying. 

4. Credit history

Are your finances in tip-top shape? 

The employer may also conduct a credit check if the position will allow you to have any sort of financial authority. Believe it or not, having poor credit can negatively impact your job search. If you want to increase your chances of landing your next job, it may be worth looking at ways to improve your credit history. In terms of background check duration, your credit check is often one of the first sets of results to come back. 

How long does a criminal background check take for a job?

Let’s say that an employer is processing a criminal background check — what’s the situation? 

Well, it takes the same amount of time. A criminal background check is usually part of a full employment background check process. The criminal background check duration can last up to two weeks, so you can expect to hear back within a week or two of the prospective employer starting the process. 

What’s the background check duration for a government job?

The background check duration is the same for a Federal or Government job: two to five business days. Of course, if you’ve climbed the career ladder, you may find that this time varies. For example, it could take up to 30 days for some higher-level government positions like the FBI due to the level of information requested in the application.  

Needless to say, employment background checks are more extensive and detailed for government departments. You may find that this check looks at your friends and family members as well as your criminal record, education history, and employment status. 

Why is my background check taking so long?

You shouldn’t always expect a short background check duration. Most of the time, this process will be relatively quick. However, there are many reasons it can take longer than expected.

If it has been more than two weeks, there may be an issue with your background check. It’s possible that there is a red flag, like conflicting employment information — maybe something doesn’t quite add up. If there is an issue, the employer may reach out to clarify some information. It’s important not to panic and to recognize that this is a standard step.

On the other hand, it could also be that there was a delay by the background check company. If they are inundated with a load of checks, they may have to work through the backlog. Since you have no way of knowing about this, you simply need to keep waiting.

Lastly, it could be that the background check was complete, but they still have not made a final decision. It is common for multiple candidates to go through a background check before the employer makes a call on who they want to hire. If that is the case, you may have to wait for the employer to run all of the background checks before you hear back.

How do I know if I pass my background check?

There’s a simple answer to this one! Once the background check duration period has ended and the results are in, the employer will either call or email you to let you know that the background has cleared. You may not even receive a notification that you passed the background check – you may simply receive a job offer. The background check tends to be the last thing that employers do before making their final hiring decision. 

Why is my background check still pending for a job?

It could be simply because the background check isn’t ready yet. There could also be something the employer discovered in the background check that they’re reviewing.

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Is it possible to fail a background check?

Unfortunately, it is possible to fail a background check. If the prospective employer receives discrepancies between past employment and education information that you’ve provided and what’s actually reported, it’s grounds for failing a background check. Or, if you have a criminal record that would impact the type of work you do — like having a recent DUI, and for your job, you’ll drive a company vehicle — it could negatively impact your background check results.

Does the employer have to disclose why the background check failed?

Yes! According to the EEOC and The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), employers are required to provide two notices to an employee/job applicant when taking an adverse employment action based on information found in a background report.

If your employer did not provide you with a copy of the background report before they chose not to hire you, then you have claims to pursue against the employer under the FCRA. That means that you do not need to see the background check at all. 

What if my background check is wrong?

Do you suspect that something is not quite right here? If you failed your background check, you might need to get more details first. You will need to obtain a report. 

Once you have a copy of the report, you can contact the background check service company and ask for a re-investigation of your results. Keep in mind that you may be asked to verify your information and supply additional information. If you are planning on asking for them to re-process your check, it pays to have all of your details on hand. 

The service company will be required to correct any inaccurate information as long as you provide the right evidence. You can then contact the employer with the updated report. The sooner you take action here, the more likely you are to get the results you need. 

Additional FAQs from the community:

"Who can we contact about our background check status?"

Start with the company you've applied to for an update about your background check's status. If that doesn't work due to nonresponse or lack of information, you can also try to reach out to the company running the background check if you have that information.

"I got my offer letter contingent on a background verification, but I haven't heard if my background is cleared. Should I contact HR?"

Unless you expect something to show up on the background check that would disqualify you for the position, it is safe to assume your onboarding process is on track. You would most likely hear if there was a problem, but it would be appropriate for you to reach out to your future employer to verify.

"I missed city court on a misdemeanor charge due to COVID. They issued a warrant. Will this show up on a state police background check?"

The misdemeanor might (if you get convicted), but it looks like the warrant might not. 

Here is more info: Do Warrants Show Up on a Background Check? If you have further questions, you might want to seek legal counsel! 

"I had my interview on Monday and the company told me it would run the background check the same day. Now it's Friday, and I haven't heard anything! What should I do?"

Give it a little more time. The company may have waited a couple more days to start your background check, or the background check company could be delayed. Contact the interviewer next week to ask for an update.

"I've been waiting for my background check to clear for a government position since May 2020; I was told by the agency with whom the position is that there's a backlog on background checks but other non-governmental employers are getting them back sooner. What could this possibly mean?"

This could mean several things. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. More people have been applying for government jobs over the past several months, so there likely IS a backlog much longer than usual.

  2. Certain parts of the background check process may be delayed by office or court closures. Look into your state or county's updates for more specific information. 

"My background check came back and reported that I am ineligible to work at a daycare. Why?"

There are a few reasons you may not be eligible to work with children. The best course of action is to follow up on why the background check showed this result. 

You can ask the employer for a copy of the full report. If the company is not willing to provide it, you have claims to pursue against the employer under the FCRA.

The waiting game

A background check is usually a good sign, but don't stop the job search process until you've accepted a job offer. It’s always a smart move to cast your net as far and wide as you can. While an employer is processing your background check, you can use that time to continue searching for roles and applying for jobs that pique your interest. 

If the background check duration seems to be longer than normal, don’t panic. The truth is that there are a number of factors that can draw out the pre-employment background check. However, the majority don't raise any questions. You simply have to wait for the service company to complete the process. While that can be annoying, it will be worth it if you get a job offer. 

Ready to kickstart your job search? We’ve got you covered with all of the resources that you need. Why not check out our expert-backed resume writing services and get the competitive edge? Get started with a free resume review and see where you can improve your application. Get started now and supercharge your job search!

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Marsha Hebert, professional resume writer

Written by

Marsha Hebert, Professional Resume Writer

Marsha is a resume writer with a strong background in marketing and writing. After completing a Business Marketing degree, she discovered that she could combine her passion for writing with a natural talent for marketing. For more than 10 years, Marsha has helped companies and individuals market themselves. Read more advice from Marsha on ZipJob's blog.

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