What does it mean when it says background check in progress?

Quick Answer

When a background check is marked as “in progress,” it means the screening company is currently gathering information on the candidate and verifying details through various sources. The background check is underway but not yet completed.

The background check process involves checking a candidate’s identity, employment history, education, criminal record, and sometimes financial history or motor vehicle records. It takes some time to collect and confirm all this data, especially if the candidate has lived or worked in multiple states.

So seeing a status of “background check in progress” means the screening company is actively working on completing the full report. It doesn’t necessarily indicate any problems or issues thus far. The background check is simply still underway.

What does a background check look for?

A standard background check for employment or tenancy typically includes:

  • Identity verification – Confirming the candidate’s full name, date of birth, and social security number to prove they are who they claim to be.
  • Employment verification – Contacting previous employers listed on the candidate’s resume or application to confirm dates of employment, job titles, duties, and in some cases earning history.
  • Education verification – Checking with colleges and universities to confirm degrees earned, dates of attendance, and graduation status.
  • Criminal records check – Searching court records in jurisdictions where the candidate has lived for any criminal convictions or pending cases.
  • Sex offender registry check – Checking national and state sex offender registries for any matching records tied to the candidate.
  • Credit check – Obtaining a credit report to view the candidate’s financial history and responsibility (typically only with the candidate’s explicit consent).
  • Driving records – Pulling motor vehicle records to view any accidents, traffic violations, DUIs, or license suspensions (usually only relevant for driving-related roles).

Some employers or landlords may also look for civil litigation records, workers compensation claims, sanction lists, bankruptcies, liens, and licensing/credential verification.

The exact components can vary by state and industry. But in general, the full background check aims to create a clear picture of the candidate’s history and character relevant to the role or rental situation.

Why can a background check take several days?

While some pieces of a background check can be completed fairly quickly with electronic databases, others require more manual verification which take time. Reasons it may take a few business days to complete a full background check include:

  • Delayed responses from previous employers, schools, or courts contacted to verify information – It takes time for these organizations to look up records and get back to the screening company.
  • Hard copy records requests – Some institutions may need to dig up paper files from archives to verify education or employment details.
  • Outdated records – Older records in some jurisdictions may only be accessible via in-person visits to physical courthouses.
  • Jurisdiction coverage – The candidate lived or worked in multiple counties or states that the screening company has to search individually.
  • Common names – If the candidate has a very common first and last name, it takes longer to pinpoint the accurate matching records.
  • Manual review – Some concerning finds still require a human to analyze and confirm relevancy.

Plus, most screening companies handle high volumes of background checks daily. They have to work through these requests in a triaged order, so turnaround time can depend on their current workload.

For these reasons, expect a background check to take anywhere from 2-7 business days in most typical cases. More complex reports for executive roles or government clearances could take 2-4 weeks.

What happens during the background check process?

Here is a general timeline of what happens during a standard background check:

1. Candidate consent and initial details submitted

First, the employer or landlord will have the candidate sign consent forms permitting the background check. This gives access to personal information and releases previous employers from confidentiality.

The candidate also provides key details upfront like full legal name, SSN, DOB, current and previous addresses, education history, employment history, etc.

2. Screening company initiates search

With the candidate’s consent and initial info submitted, the screening company gets to work quickly verifying identity and initiating the records searches relevant to the background check components needed.

3. Employment and education verification

One of the first areas the screening company verifies is the candidate’s stated work history and schooling. This involves reaching out to HR departments, hiring managers, registrars offices, etc. to confirm roles, tenures, degrees, and graduation dates.

4. Nationwide criminal record searches

The background check company will conduct a systematic search of court records tied to the candidate’s name and aliases as well as previous cities, counties, and states lived in to uncover any criminal history. This may involve searches of central state repositories as well as county-level searches.

5. Sex offender registry check

A cross-check of national and state-level sex offender registries is done to identify any matches based on names and physical details like age or photos if available.

6. Driving history and credit reports

If relevant to the role or rental, the company will also pull motor vehicle records and a credit report with explicit consent from the candidate.

7. Final quality review

Before issuing the final background check report, the screening company has a human review the findings to spot check accuracy, relevance to the role, adverse action process compliance, and fair credit reporting rules. This is a risk management step.

8. Report complete and case closed

Once all aspects have been thoroughly checked and reviewed, the full background check report is issued to the employer or landlord who initiated it. At this point, the screening company will close out the case in their systems.

How do you check the status of a background check?

If you have applied for a job or apartment that requires a background check, you can check on the progress in a few ways:

Follow up with the requesting organization

Contact the employer or landlord who initiated the background check and ask them for an update on the status. They may be able to look it up in their applicant tracking system or screening company dashboard and relay back if it’s still in progress.

Check in with the screening company

If you know which third-party screening firm is handling your check, you can reach out to them directly to ask for a status update (see if contact info was provided in the forms you signed). They can look up your case in their systems.

Watch for completion notifications

Some screening firms will automatically email the candidate when the background check is completed so they know the full report has been issued. Watch for completion emails if expecting one.

Observe changes in online dashboards

A few screening companies provide online self-service candidate portals. You may be able to register and view real-time status updates as the check progresses.

Notice when verification outreach stops

If you are still getting calls to verify past employment or education, it’s a sign the check is likely still in progress and outstanding verifications remain.

Is “background check in progress” status bad?

In most cases, a status of “background check in progress” is neutral – it simply means the screening company is still gathering information and conducting searches required to complete the full report. It does not necessarily indicate any problems or red flags on your record.

However, here are some scenarios where it may raise concerns:

– The background check seems to be taking unusually long without completion. Extended holds can happen if concerning records need further review, but are atypical if everything checks out cleanly.

– You are asked to provide additional documentation or explanation by the screening company or hiring employer before it’s finalized. This may signal potential issues being unearthed.

– The employer stops communicating with you about the role while awaiting check results. Could mean they are troubled by something surfaced.

– Hiring discussions suddenly shift from when you’ll start to further assessing your candidacy. May indicate challenges verifying details or adverse findings.

– You start being asked probing questions about facts they are likely double-checking like exact past job titles or graduation dates. Could reflect inconsistencies flagged.

– A conditional job offer is retracted before the check completes. May imply they uncovered an undesirable record that deems you unsuitable.

So while a pending status alone is usually not a red flag, any of the above accompanying circumstances may suggest problems stalling completion or negative discoveries within the report.

Can you start work before a background check clears?

In most cases, employers will want the background check fully completed and cleared before allowing a new hire to start work. It’s risky to let someone begin training or working before the screening process is finished.

However, exceptions may include:

– Contingent temporary role offer pending background check results where training can begin. But full permanent employment remains conditional.

– Start date many weeks out, so preliminary onboarding tasks can proceed while background check wraps up.

– Safety-sensitive roles where processes take longer, like security guards, healthcare workers. May need to begin supervision while awaiting full security clearances.

– Low-risk employers willing to take a calculated risk to begin someone they view as very low concern. Still inadvisable practice generally.

– Positions where live training is required first, like instructional pilots, so classroom training proceeds while checks run in the weeks before starting solo responsibilities.

But outside of unique cases like these, most employers would consider it negligent and risky to allow someone to fully start work before completing a background check demonstrating they are fit for the role and safe for the workplace.

Can a company rescind an offer based on the background check?

Yes – it is generally legal for an employer to rescind a conditional job offer based on concerning findings from the background check. However, there are compliance steps they must follow:

  • They must notify the candidate and provide them with a notice called a Pre-Adverse Action letter along with a copy of the background check report before any adverse action is taken (like rescinding an offer). This gives the candidate a chance to dispute any incorrect information.
  • After a reasonable waiting period for the candidate to respond, the employer may proceed with the adverse action of withdrawing the conditional job offer if the background check revealed information they deem concerning and relevant, such as:
    • False information provided by the candidate on the resume or application
    • Criminal convictions directly related to the job duties
    • Evidence of behaviour indicating a high risk to customers, employees, or company assets
  • The employer must send an Adverse Action Notice if they proceed to rescind the offer and consider compliance with fair credit reporting rules like the FCRA.

In summary, yes – a problematic background check can lead to a rescinded job offer, but the employer must follow proper protocols to avoid legal risk. The candidate also has rights to dispute inaccuracies revealed in the report.

Can you fail a background check for any reason?

There are various reasons why someone might fail a background check by having concerning issues surface leading an employer to rescind a job offer or landlord to deny a lease. Some examples include:

Lying on your application

One of the most common reasons candidates fail background checks is getting caught lying on their job application or resume, such as:

– Overstating education credentials like claiming a degree not earned
– Providing false prior job titles, employers, or employment dates
– Falsifying licensure status or specialized certifications required for the role
– Omitting or misrepresenting criminal convictions or termination for cause

When the background check uncovers fabrications like these and reveals your actual records and history, it can certainly cause you to fail the assessment.

Serious criminal convictions

Certain types of serious criminal convictions like felonies or violent/sexual crimes are understandable red flags to employers and landlords that can result in background check failure, especially if directly related to the job or rental property.

Concerns related to the role

Multiple smaller offenses

While one minor misdemeanor may not cause concern, a pattern of multiple small criminal or motor vehicle offenses over time can still be grounds for background check failure.

Signs of dishonesty

Beyond directly job-related records, some behaviors could indicate untrustworthiness, like records of:

– Identity theft
– Credit or benefits fraud
– Chronic lying

These dishonest acts could lead to the rescinding of a job offer in many types of roles.

What can you do if you fail a background check?

If you receive an adverse action notice informing you of background check failure, you have options:

– **Review the report for accuracy** – Mistakes happen, so check that the records found actually belong to you and are reported accurately. Dispute any factual errors with evidence.

– **Explain mitigating circumstances** – Provide context to the employer/landlord on offenses like one-time mistakes, youthful indiscretions, etc. to make your case. Offer letters of recommendation speaking to your character.

– **Demonstrate rehabilitation** – Show how you’ve taken steps to improve yourself, like through counseling, education, community service, etc. since any past offenses.

– **Discuss risk reduction options** – Propose ways you’d work with the employer to reduce any risks identified, like special training, supervision, job modifications, etc. Appeal to give you a chance.

– **File disputes** – For adverse actions taken based on a background check, you can file disputes with the Fair Credit Reporting Act agencies if process violations are suspected.

– **Consult an attorney** – To understand your legal rights in the situation, you may want to have a consumer law attorney review the case details with you for advice on any options.

– **Apply elsewhere** – Look for other employers or landlords with more flexible policies who may still accept you despite any records in your past. Cast a wider net.

Being denied a job or apartment due to background check failure is frustrating, but understanding the reason, addressing any inaccuracies, demonstrating rehabilitation, and speaking to your candidacy may still provide opportunities.


When you see a background check status as “in progress,” it simply indicates the screening is underway and verifications are ongoing to complete the full report. While this pending status alone is usually neutral, take note if delays, additional vetting, or shifted hiring discussions occur, as they may indicate potential concerns arising. Though employers can rescind conditional offers based on unfavorable check results, be aware that dispute and appeal options exist if you end up facing background check failure. Stay in communication throughout the process, and clarify next steps if any red flags appear to prepare yourself accordingly depending on the results.

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