Background Check Turnaround Times: What Affects Them and How You Can Make Them Faster

Background check turnaround times are one of the most commonly asked about topics, and often the least understood. One of the most common questions I’m asked is “How long is the background check going to take?” Everyone has a different idea of what a background check is – making it difficult to communicate in simple terms.

Ultimately, I think it is important to highlight that there are different types of background checks. Each of these types has a different turnaround time based on the types of research that go into the report, where the information comes from, and a few other factors that I’ll get into.

The different types of background checks

Without delving too far into this expansive subject, the main point to convey is that not all employment screening information comes from the same source and is not collected in the same way. One criminal record report may contain research from several individual county courts, state repositories, etc.

At Validity, we pride ourselves in our efficiencies. By going directly to the court houses with our own research network, we drastically reduce the turnaround time for live court record research. Even with the quick turnarounds we already have, we are continuously looking for more ways to cut that time down.

How you can shorten your turnaround times for background checks

Whether you use us for your employment screening or another background screening agency, there are a few universal tips that will help improve the amount of time it takes to get your reports back.

Ensure your applicant’s information is accurate

The number one cause of avoidable turnaround delays is inaccurate information in a background check request. When we discover that an applicant’s information such as Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Name, etc. is incorrect, we are required to reach out to either the client or the individual to verify their information. This in itself causes a delay. That delay is compounded when the applicant doesn’t immediately respond to the request.

Fun Fact: You may be interested to know that background checks are not indexed and searched by Social Security Number. There are searched by name and date of birth. If there are discrepancies in the applicant’s legal name (Alex vs. Alexander vs. Alexandria) this can cause delays – especially when the applicant has a common name.

Submit your request early in the day

It is best to submit background check orders as early in the day as possible. A researcher may have 100 names on their research task list by 10 am for high-volume search areas. In most cases, the orders are processed in the order they are received and if your order is at the back of the queue, it may not be processed same day.

Provide additional documentation upfront (where possible)

Certain types of background checks require additional supporting documentation before they can be researched. This most commonly appears as an additional release form requirement (International Background Checks, State Childhood Abuse and Neglect searches, etc.). When these additional release forms are required, nothing can be done until the court or agency has a release form.

If that release form isn’t provided with the background check, then we will reach out to get that information from you. This process will cause delays in turnaround time.

There are a few things out of the background screener’s control

Unfortunately, not everything related to turnaround time is within the background screener’s control. This is a list of the most common issues that can impact turnaround time outside of our control.

Inclement weather

Not even the strictest court procedure can control the weather or prevent natural disasters. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and snowstorms often significantly impact turnaround time. They can cause power outages and transportation issues that prevent researchers (and court personnel) from being able to travel to the courthouse to review records. If the courts are closed, proceedings are either cancelled or rescheduled, meaning pending cases may take even longer to reach disposition.

Clerk searches

When a criminal record researcher goes to an individual court to find information in a background check, there are a few different ways they may go about this.

  • Public Access Terminals
  • Manual Clerk Research
  • State Repositories

Many courts provide Public Access Terminals (PATs) that allow the researcher to conduct their search themselves. However, not all PATs are created equally. Some will only note that a record exists – signifying the need for the researcher to conduct a manual search. It slows down the process when they must literally go through boxes of paper records to find what they are looking for.

Some jurisdictions do not allow non-court personnel to access their records. Instead, agencies are required to file a request that will be filled by a court clerk. Court clerk searches are notorious for slow turnarounds, but to be fair it isn’t always their fault. In many of these jurisdictions, there is no clerk whose sole job is to process these requests so they must balance this with their regular duties. The main thing that you need to know is that counties with clerk searches are going to take longer.

At Validity, we notify clients when an applicant’s background check will require research from an area with slow turnarounds. While we can’t really do anything to speed up the process, the client at least knows what to expect.

Court-observed holidays

There are many holidays observed by the courts or other state agencies that result in closures or reduced office hours. Common holidays include Martin Luther King Day, Veterans Day, etc. Some courts observe local holidays as well. Naturally, since the court is closed, it causes delays in research turnaround time due to backlogged requests during the downtime.

Tiered court searches

Some areas have a tiered court system. One county may have a traffic, misdemeanor, and felony court. In areas with a tiered system, criminal records are stored in the court that processed the record – not both. As such, a researcher is required to search each tier of the court system in that jurisdiction. Since there are more areas to search, it often adds additional hours to the turnaround time.

Final thoughts

As I’m sure you are already aware, improving your turnaround time can have a very positive impact on your onboarding process. If you require a cleared background check before an applicant can be given a job offer, it will minimize the chance of them moving on to other job offers or losing interest. With these helpful tips, you may be able to improve your internal processes to minimize avoidable delays in your background check turnaround times.