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Published: Sep 06, 2023 8 min read

You’ve applied for the job, signed the authorization for the background check and are now waiting for the results for what seems like way too long.

If more than a week has passed, it’s easy to start getting worried. However, there are plenty of reasons why searches can be delayed and a lengthy wait isn’t necessarily bad news.

Keep reading to learn how to know why your background check could be taking longer than expected, how to know whether you passed and what you can do if you didn’t.

Table of contents

How to know if you passed a background check

The best background check companies can provide results in a few business days; however, there are plenty of reasons why even their searches can be delayed and those reasons don’t necessarily include adverse findings or failure to pass the employee background check.

First, it’s important to note that the law — specifically the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) — requires that prospective employers give candidates notice if they are taking adverse action based on the results of a background check. This means that, if you haven’t heard back, the investigation could still be ongoing.

There are only two sure-fire ways to know you passed the check: for the potential employer or hiring manager to confirm that you passed and/or for them to extend a job offer (that is not contingent on finalizing the background screening).

If it’s been over two weeks and you haven’t heard back, it’s a good idea to follow up with your prospective employer to check on the status of the background searches.

How long does a background check take?

The length of time it takes to complete a background check varies depending on the provider, the types of searches, the position you’re applying for, the courts that need to be searched and sometimes, even your name.

A typical pre-employment background check, which can include credit checks, reference checks and degree verification, usually takes a few business days to a week or so. International searches or more in-depth investigations — such as those conducted for higher-paying, managerial positions — could take longer.

Searches can also be delayed for other reasons. For example, the investigation could take considerably longer if you’ve lived in multiple jurisdictions over the investigation period, if there have been court closures or if court records have to be searched in person instead of through an online portal. There can also be delays if you have multiple aliases or a fairly common name, both of which are likely to yield numerous results that need to be sorted and analyzed.

Reasons for failing a background check

If the background check uncovered adverse information that disqualifies you from the hiring process, potential employers are required by law to send you a notice of adverse action detailing the reasons why they’re rejecting your application, along with a copy of the report and a summary of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The reasons for failing a background check might vary depending on the employer but they typically boil down to the following:

Criminal history

Criminal background checks on potential employees can go back seven to 10 years, depending on the position you’re applying for. Searches will typically be conducted in counties where you lived in during that time and could turn up arrests and convictions that occurred during that period.

While not all employers require a spotless criminal history and some might overlook misdemeanors, felonies will most likely be flagged in the background check.

Do note, however, that many states — including California — have passed “ban-the-box” legislation, which aims to give people with criminal records a fair chance at employment. This means that employers operating in those states aren’t allowed to ask about past criminal convictions in the application process and could be legally required to delay background checks until a job offer has been made.

Additionally, some states also bar employers from taking into account arrests — as opposed to convictions — in the making of hiring decisions, except in certain circumstances.

Inaccurate or false information in the application

Another reason for failing a background check could be discrepancies between the information you provided and what the background check found.

This can happen whether you made a mistake while filling out the application or purposefully misrepresented your education history or past work experience.

Poor credit history

A poor credit history can also lead to a failed background check for some positions, especially if you’re applying for a financial role. Some employers will have stricter credit standards for employees vying for financial roles and might disqualify you if they see a history of collections, tax liens or bankruptcies.

Negative employment history

Pre-employment investigations typically include past employment verification and, sometimes, reference checks.

While some states limit what a previous employer can say during a reference check, many don’t. Overall, most employers can generally discuss your job title, responsibilities and whether there was a resignation or a termination.

Steps to take if you fail a background check

Employers are legally obligated to give you a copy of your background check report — complete with information about your financial, employment and criminal history — if they use that information as a reason not to hire you.

They are also legally required to give you enough time to review the background check results and dispute any inaccuracies found.

If you receive the notice of adverse action, there are a couple of things you can do.

1. Contact the employer or background check company to dispute the results

If you find inaccurate results in your report — and this could happen — you have the right to dispute these items directly with the background investigations company.

The report the potential employer shares with you should have the contact information for the company that provided the background check services. You can use this information to contact them and ask them to review the report results.

2. Take steps to address any issues found during the background check

If the information found is correct, it’s a good idea to be proactive in addressing the issues before your next background check. For example, if you were applying for a financial role and the failure was due to your credit report, you can start taking steps to repair your credit.

Alternatively, if the employer decided not to hire you based on criminal records, make sure you’re clear on your rights by finding out whether your state has “ban-the-box” laws. You can also consult an attorney to find out whether an expungement is possible in your case and/or to check what other legal avenues are available.

How do you know if you passed a background check FAQ

How can I pass a background check?


While there are some things that aren't within your control when it comes to the background check process, the most important thing you can do is to be as accurate as possible in filling out your job application and resume.

Discrepancies between the information the job candidate offers and what the background check uncovers can keep you from passing the check. This can happen whether the discrepancies are due to mistakes in filling out the application or intentional misrepresentation of educational credentials or past job experience.

Additionally, if you're applying for a financial position, you should take a look at your credit report and make sure to dispute and correct any inaccurate or outdated information.

​​What are the reasons someone wouldn't pass a background check?

Some of the most common reasons for not passing a background check include discrepancies between the information the candidate provides and the information uncovered by the background check, poor credit (if you're applying for a financial position), negative comments from past references and/or certain types of criminal records.

Can I dispute the results of a background check?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provisions, you have the right to dispute inaccurate information in your background report. If the potential employer decides not to hire you based on the results from the background check, they must provide you with a notice of "adverse action" and a copy of the background report, along with a summary of your rights under the FCRA. Typically, you'll have 30 days from the date of receiving this notice to dispute the information in the report.

How can I prepare for a background check as an applicant?


One of the best ways to prepare for an employment background check as an applicant is to run a background check on yourself so you can get ahead of any potential issues that come up. You can use a background search service to do that for you.

You can get copies of your credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and copies of your driving record, criminal record or other records related to a criminal history from state, local or federal law enforcement.

Once you get the results, you can determine if any issues will likely be red flags or present an obstacle to hiring.