The Truth About Background Check Turnaround Times

Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP

May 8 2019

InfoMart is approaching its 30th birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on the incredible changes the background screening industry has seen in that time.

Plenty of background screening companies, especially the startups, report that they’re modernizing the screening industry. They claim their technology and processes help them beat “industry standard” turnaround times—and then claim the industry standard is 3 to 5 business days. As a long-standing expert in this field, I can tell you the truth: average turnaround time hasn’t topped three days in over two decades.

A History of Turnaround Time

When background screening took root in the late ’80s, turnaround time wasn’t a KPI people took into account. Early adopters were just beginning to venture into criminal searches on new hires. Email and the internet weren’t available. While HR and security professionals were determining how to use criminal records in their hiring decisions, background check companies were searching for the sources to obtain the information efficiently.

By the early ’90s, companies took pride in listing “background checks” as required criteria in their job advertisements. The pre-employment screening industry grew, and before long new ROI metrics came into the conversation; competitors raced to provide the best turnaround times (TAT).

There wasn’t a national industry association (yet), but we all began quoting 3 to 5 days as standard turnaround time. We all wanted to hit three days, but this was before automation. Each search was manual, so even in the quickest cases, it took the full three days to produce a report.

Every minor disruption impacted turnaround time. Miss the window to get a request to a searcher? Need results from a courthouse with criminal records organized by day rather than alphabetically? The process could take an extra day.

Long before back office systems and ATS integration, even the most high-tech organizations were using Lotus 123 and WordPerfect.

Things Speed Up in the Mid-90s

The race was on to improve TAT. At InfoMart, we worked to tame the paper monster with NCR forms. We assigned a color for each service and numbered them sequentially.

Turnaround time hasn’t been 3 to 5 days in over two decades

From there, we moved to a system that was cutting-edge at the time: answering machines. Searchers would call in and press one for “no record” and two for “record,” then fax the physical records to the office. The message system allowed us to process our “no record” results first, which sped up the process and reduced our TAT.

Modems Enter the Office

InfoMart’s reputation for first-to-market innovations first began in the ’90s, when we released a system that leveraged shareware to allow clients to send and receive requests and results. We expected every company to jump onboard, but many didn’t have the dedicated telephone lines for modems in their security or HR departments. Eventually, as dial-up modems became mainstream, background checks became automated—and we were off to faster TATs.


Automation Reduces Turnaround Time

By the millennium, email, internet, and back office platforms changed background screening. Courthouses were beginning to enter their records into searchable databases. Results were being returned to clients digitally.

The industry standard for TAT ticked down, and most in the industry would quote a 3-day average turnaround time.


The Bottom Line: Experience Matters

 In the past decade, brilliant technology has transformed the entire background screening industry, and turnaround time remains a leading KPI. Even background check companies with cutting-edge technology are at the mercy of courts, and there are still some courts that are not fully automated or even cooperative.

 Turnaround time is a careful balance between speed and accuracy. We’re all sourcing records from the same courthouses and repositories. It’s experience that makes the difference in turnaround time. It’s the mature systems that automate county and state nuances. It’s the expertise of the people processing and quality assuring criminal results. It’s the ability to delicately incorporate AI and other leading technology into QA measures. Those are the factors that differentiate startups from those of us with decades of experience in the background check world.

 If your screening company claims 3 to 5 business days is “industry standard”—I’m here to tell you that’s not true. With nearly three decades of background check work under my belt, I’ve seen this industry in every stage of its development. By now, with automation and AI working in the more mature systems, it is safe to say the industry standard is under 3 days.

 Not sure your screening company is returning results as quickly as they could be? InfoMart’s background check audit will determine if you’re getting the service you deserve. Click here to get started.

 originally posted on LInkedIn

About Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart 30 years ago. Deemed the “Queen of Screen,” she’s been a force behind industry-leading innovations. She was most recently the first-to-market with a fully compliant sanctions search, as well as a suite of identity services that modernizes talent onboarding. Tammy revolutionized the screening industry when she stepped into the field, developing the first client-facing application and a due diligence criminal search that has since become standard for all background screening companies. Cohen has received national awards and honors for her business and civic involvement, including Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 25 Women-Owned Firms in Atlanta, Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year award, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia’s Kathryn Woods Racial Justice Award, and a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record.

About InfoMart

InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for 30 years, providing businesses the information they need to make informed hiring decisions. They develop innovative technology that modernizes talent onboarding, including a first-to-market biometric identity authentication application and a verified sanctions search. The WBENC-certified company is a founding member of the Professional Background Screening Association, and they have achieved PBSA accreditation in recognition of their consistent business practices and commitment to compliance with the FCRA. The company is dedicated to customer service, speed, and accuracy, and it has been recognized for its success, workplace culture, and corporate citizenship with over 45 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.

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