Behind the scenes, the efficiency of the screening process relies on several factors. Background information comes from a variety of sources—databases, courts, employers, and the candidates themselves—and there are plenty of opportunities for delay along the way. 

Without decent turnaround time, a company can lose candidates, negatively impact the candidate experience, and increase the time to hire for open positions. According to a national survey conducted by and the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS, now the PBSA), 62 percent of employers said turnaround time was the most significant challenge facing their organization when conducting background checks. 

Speed is important, but not if it comes at a cost. No one wants immediate background check results if they’re incomplete or inaccurate. However, it’s possible to get accurate and comprehensive background check results in a reasonable amount of time. Here are six factors that can impact turnaround times and some ways to avoid unnecessary delays.

1. Accuracy of data in the initial screening request

It’s always important to make sure candidates are completing their application and screening authorization forms legibly and with accurate and complete information. Candidates can misinterpret what information is being requested, forget to complete a section, or mistakenly provide incomplete or erroneous information. Missing or incorrect information in any of the following areas can hinder the timely completion of a background check:

  • Full name, including middle name or middle initial (particularly helpful for individuals with common names such as John Smith)
  • Date of birth in the requested format, such as mm/dd/year
  • Full address, without abbreviations and including zip code
  • Full name of educational institution with city and state (many colleges have campuses in different locations)
  • Name and address of each company in the employment history (some companies have multiple sites or branches)
  • Driver’s license number and state
  • Accurate details on any previous convictions (only for areas without “Ban the Box” laws)
  • Professional license or certification information

2. Degree of automation in the background screening program 

Anytime a process is automated, it is often faster than paper-based processes or steps that require multiple email exchanges. Companies with an automated background screening process have the ability to quickly initiate background checks—for example, through an online platform—rather than requesting them separately via phone or email, which saves time. An automated online platform also allows for automated messaging. If desired, the background screening company can contact candidates directly through the platform rather than requiring you to chase candidates for information.

Having an established protocol for conducting certain background checks is another way to save time and improve efficiency. For example, it may make sense to establish a process for checking certain educational degrees rather than having to make a determination each time a new case is opened. You might decide to verify bachelor’s degrees only (instead of advanced degrees) or decide to check only one bachelor’s degree if a person has more than one.

3. Number of locations

There is no central database that contains everything about a person’s past, such as all information related to criminal history. Therefore, a separate search is needed for each location a candidate has lived. If a candidate has lived in a number of different counties or states, it may take longer to get background check results than for a person who has resided in the same county their whole life. Every municipality is different. Location-specific delays and the accuracy of a county or state database can also affect background check turnaround time.


[INFOGRAPHIC] Key factors to consider when comparing background screening  service providers »

4. Types of positions

Licensing or credentials for certain highly specialized roles typically take longer to verify than for a person with few to no special credentials. For example, an engineer with multiple degrees, certifications, and accreditation honors will likely undergo a more lengthy background check than a person with a bachelor’s degree and no other credentials. Some of the positions that are likely to have credentials requiring a longer turnaround time might include:

  • Physicians, nurses, and other licensed medical practitioners
  • Professors and researchers
  • Scientists and engineers

5. Response time of verification sources

Employment and education verifications are always dependent on the time it takes for the sources to return phone calls or emails. The same is true when it comes to conducting reference interviews. If a reference or verification contact is out of the office or busy with other priorities, everything must wait on those individuals before the background check can be completed. Verification sources can be slow to respond for a variety of reasons, including: 

  • They’re the wrong contact person
  • They’ve changed their mind and don’t want to provide a reference
  • They’re unsure of their company’s policy on what information they’re allowed to provide

6. Time of day

Beginning any process at the start of the day allows you to get more done before the business day ends, and that includes background checks. Database searches can be conducted at any time of the day, but an actual court search is subject to court working hours. Criminal search requests submitted in the morning can get to the court runner faster, increasing the likelihood a search is completed before the end of the court day.

How to Shorten Background Check Turnaround Times

When it comes to completing background checks, there will be certain elements beyond your control, such as holidays or delays in a particular municipality. However, in many cases, there are specific actions you can take to shorten the turnaround time. Here are some key ways to make sure background checks don’t take any longer than they have to.

Get accurate employee information at the outset

A thorough background check process relies on accurate and complete information from the candidate. Any abbreviations, skipped fields, or missing phone numbers on any form can cause delays. To get the most accurate employee information possible, it’s a good idea to remind candidates of the importance of completing all fields fully. You should also make sure they have access to instructions for completing their background check authorization form. If your background screening company requests clarifying information, be sure to provide it quickly to avoid further delays.

Automate key steps in the screening process

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with each new background check request. Building packages with your background screening partner at the beginning will help improve turnaround times, setting a clearly outlined process for making requests, flagging reports for review, or making a decision for adverse action based on results. A background screening platform makes it easy to implement background check workflows that are intuitive and automated. When that platform also integrates with your ATS, you only enter certain information once, which cuts down on the number of steps you need to take to get a completed background check report.

Submit requests in a timely fashion

The faster a background check request is submitted, the faster the process can begin. Therefore, it’s important to implement workflows that allow candidate information to flow easily to your background screening company. A technology solution is a great alternative to individual voicemail or email, both of which can go unchecked overnight or even for days if a member of the team is out of the office.

Encourage references to reply 

Reference interviews require a conversation about a candidate, and when that conversation doesn’t happen in a timely manner, whole days can be lost in the background check process. To prevent this from happening, ask candidates to remind their references that they will receive a call or email requesting an interview. Candidates can also encourage their references to return calls and make themselves available for a conversation as soon as practically possible.

Yes, You Can Influence Turnaround Time

When conducting background checks, there’s no need to feel that turnaround times are completely beyond your control. With a mix of automated processes, integrated technology, and a focus on supplying accurate information, you can avoid the obstacles that increase turnaround time. When you work with a dedicated background screening partner who understands how to complete background checks accurately and efficiently, you can better manage time for candidates and yourself.


New call-to-action