How Long For A Career Background Check

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 26, 2021

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Finding a job can be difficult. Finding a job and then having to pass a background check if you have a misdemeanor, felony, or civil conviction can make the task seem impossible.

While many job applications have taken away the “have you ever been convicted of a felony” question, you will still likely have a background check completed on you before you are hired.

Some jobs might do a basic check, and others might look deep into your records for more than just felony convictions.

You might be feeling overwhelmed by this information, but don’t worry, we’re here for you.

We’ve gathered the data so you can know how long it’ll take to get your background check completed, what is included in a background check, and how far back it looks so you can be well prepared.

Here are the basics for you to keep in mind while you’re waiting for your background check results:

  • Civil credit-related convictions cannot be seen in background checks after seven to ten years

  • Some states limit how far back criminal and work checks can go, often limiting it to seven to ten years

  • Because of the number of records they have to shift through, career background checks can take as little as 24 hours to weeks

Now that you know what to prepare for, let’s look at the details of career background checks.

How Long Does a Background Check Take?

Unfortunately, background checks can be quick or can take a very long time. The whole process can be very unpredictable, so keep that in mind if it seems like they are taking forever to finish your background check.

Why is it so unpredictable? The simple answer to that question is that paperwork can take forever, and there are a lot of factors that affect the time it takes for a background check to be completed.

The most important thing to know about background checks is that they are more than a single search.

Remember the last time you went to the DMV? Remember how it took forever to get an updated driver’s license? Now imagine trying to access online records from multiple places, including the DMV, to complete a background check on one person.

The entire process can take 24 hours to weeks. But considering the number of records they may pull, it’s no wonder it can take forever for some background checks to finish.

What Is Included in a Criminal Background Check?

Now that you know why your records are taking forever to come through, you might be wondering what exactly they are looking for in a background check. What’s included in a background check depends on the job you are applying for.

Some checks might be a quick felony check in local and federal criminal records. Some might be more detailed if you are applying for a job that works with children, patients, the elderly, and the government.

Here are some of the records that employers might pull to learn about you as a potential job candidate:

  • DMV records for DUIs and reckless driving

  • Employment history checks

  • Credit checks (includes fraud, bankruptcy, and embezzlement)

  • Educational histories

  • Social media footprint (your social media profiles — which can sometimes be seen even if they’re on private)

  • Criminal records, on the county, state, and federal levels

  • Social security trace (includes past addresses, names, criminal records, and places worked associated with your SSN)

  • Sex offender list

Criminal records have detailed information about your past criminal history and, surprisingly, may include some information about you that isn’t criminal at all.

Criminal background checks may include convictions, arrests, and court orders. It will show incarceration records, federal and state tax liens, civil judgments, and bankruptcies. It may even show drug test reports. But sometimes, surprisingly, it can include marriage and divorce records.

Employers will either complete the background check in-house or will contract a third party. Once they have your information, they usually begin by checking county, state, and federal criminal records.

Usually, a background check is also paired with a drug test. Drugs like opiates (heroin/OxyContin) amphetamines (speed), methamphetamines (meth), cocaine, PCP, benzodiazepines (Xanax/Ativan), marijuana, and more are checked for.

How Far Back Does a Background Check Look?

If you are looking for a job and did something in the past that might be flagged on a background check, the first thing you should find out is what the background check laws and limitations are for your state.

Let’s say you were convicted of a felony 20 years ago when you were a teenager. Will that always be on your record? The quick answer to that is yes, but those records might be hidden from background checks after a certain amount of time, depending on where you live.

Some states limit how far a background check can go based upon the salary of the job you are applying for — seems strange, right? These laws, however, are incredibly useful in helping people with distant criminal records find fair employment.

In these cases, employers are limited from viewing a candidate’s criminal records past seven years, although the exact time limit depends on the state.

Sometimes, criminal background checks include criminal suits against you, even if you were found not guilty. You weren’t convicted, but the record that you were involved in something related to a criminal case may be on your record forever.

Because these records can be discriminatory, some states won’t allow employment-related criminal record checks to show if you were found not guilty.

Let’s say you were convicted of a misdemeanor at 18, and you are now 40 looking for a job. You can try to get those convictions expunged. If you can do so, those records will forever be taken off of your criminal background check.

Let’s say you went bankrupt at 25 — are you doomed forever from working at a bank? Luckily for you, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits the amount of information a company can access. In general, information about tax liens, collections accounts, and civil suits cannot be reported after seven years. Bankruptcies cannot be reported after ten years.

Final Thoughts

Background checks can be a very stressful process if you have a criminal record. But luckily, we’ve outlined the information you need to understand better what’s out there concerning criminal background checks.

After reading the examples in this article, you might think you’re safe because your convictions are over ten years old, but remember, these are just examples. Each state has different rules and regulations concerning background check information, so it’s best to know your state’s laws.

If you find your record is making it too difficult to find a job, consider moving states. Some states have much stronger laws to protect the fair employment of convicted felons. So just because you aren’t having luck in one state doesn’t mean it’ll be the same in every state.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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Topics: Get The Job, Skills