Why Is My Background Check Taking So Long?

Whether waiting on background screening results for employment or for personal purposes, it can be frustrating when your pending report takes longer than expected. However, one thing many fail to understand is that background checks are not always as easy to procure as fictional media makes them out to be. While technology certainly plays its role, proper background screening requires that people remain in the process. Ensuring thoroughness and accuracy can sometimes take a bit of time. Here’s why.

Dispelling Some Common Myths

The words “background check” often paint pictures in our minds of fingerprint scans, super-advanced data retrieval technologies, and unusually high levels of access to information. The truth is, the pictures are largely painted by myth. Here are some of the big ones:

Pushing the “Magic Button”

Some may think that criminal data, past employment history, education information, credit insights, and more can all be accessed at once, with the push of a button. This is simply not true. Most every tidbit of information included on a background report is acquired from a different source.

County criminal information is retrieved directly from the county courts. Federal criminal information is retrieved from federal courts. Credit information is acquired from the credit bureaus. Education information is often verified with the institutions themselves, as is the case with past employment history.

You get the idea. A comprehensive background check involves a lot of moving pieces.

Front-of-the-Line Accesses

While it is true consumer reporting agencies have accesses that the average person doesn’t, these accesses are not always instant or unlimited. Take criminal court information as an example. Many courts require that information is acquired directly through the court clerk. This means that background screening companies often find themselves at the mercy of courthouse timelines. This sometimes can’t be avoided and is the reason behind extended completion dates.

No Manual Processes

While technology has helped to streamline many processes in the background screening industry, there is still a considerable amount of legwork involved. 

Let’s say a background screening company is fulfilling an employment verification for a certain Jane Doe who listed a mom and pop shop as her previous employer. The only way to verify employment is through manual outreach— phone calls and/or emails. Well, this can add unexpected delays to the process if the contact is slow to pick up the phone or altogether unresponsive.

Another example again involves the courts. Since much criminal data is still retrieved manually, unexpected court closures or delays can extend completion timelines. 

In short, there is a lot of manual data retrieval still involved in the background screening process. This is unlikely to change anytime soon due to data security and reporting laws.

Guaranteed Data Integrity

When obtaining information from databases, courts, and other sources, there is a level of quality assurance involved before the report is finalized. 

For example, let’s say a report is being run on a Mike Brown, born any given day in 1970. Well, it’s quite likely there were several Mike Browns born on that same day, perhaps even in a similar geographical area. When retrieving data from a number of different sources, a sound background screening company will make sure all the data aligns properly with the intended Mike Brown. This may involve acquiring more specific personal identifier information from him, re-running a report, or verifying results with a court.

In summation, sometimes proper quality assurance and attention to detail adds a bit of time to the process. 

FBI Background Checks Are Faster and Better

As a federal agency, the FBI has been long-revered for its role in upholding justice. This, however, does not mean they are the most capable consumer reporting agency out there. It may come as a surprise to many, but FBI background checks can take several weeks longer, and contain much less detail than private-sector background screening reports. All this is accompanied by the hassle of fingerprinting— a thing private sector organizations don’t require.

If you are undergoing an FBI background check, you will likely be waiting a good while.

Consumer (or Applicant) Responsiveness

Now that we’ve gone over the myths, it’s time to briefly discuss another large cause of background report delays— the consumer (or applicant).

There are many times when a bit of information may be missing, or something needs to be verified, requiring action and response on the consumer’s (or applicant’s) end. For example, an individual prescribed Adderall for ADHD will likely be getting a call from a medical review officer (MRO) following a drug test in order to verify a prescription. In this case, the completion of that report will likely hinge on whether the MRO gets the information they need from the consumer (or applicant). This can also be the case when the background screening researcher needs to verify a date of birth, address, alias, or any other seemingly minor thing that could have a big impact on results.


When all is said and done, a background check can be pretty involved and its completion is not as simple as pushing a button or accessing some mega database. At consumer credentials, timeliness and accuracy are top priorities, but there will always be cases that require a bit of patience.

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