Before you can land your dream job, you may have to jump through a lot of hoops, including a pre-employment drug test. Of all the hoops, the employer drug test often causes the most distress, especially for those who have absolutely nothing to worry about. Thankfully, just gaining a simple understanding of what to expect can ease most worries, making the process much more approachable. 

Unless the location for the drug test has already been specified, your local urgent care may be your simplest way to provide a test. As Dr. Gregory Blomquist, Chief Medical Officer at Community Med Family Urgent Care, advises: “An urgent care will usually have a standard fee for such a test, with short wait times and convenient hours on evenings and weekends.”

To help you forward with confidence, here’s a look at the steps to completing a pre-employment drug test.

Check-In Procedures

To ensure their results are as accurate as possible, drug testing centers have everyone go through the same check-in procedures. When you arrive at the center, you will need to check in at the front desk and fill out any paperwork they provide. If your employer provided paperwork to you, give it to the receptionist at this time.

Once you are checked in, you may be asked to empty your pockets and lock up your belongings before going back for testing. This largely depends on the type of test being performed and the facility’s individual procedures.

Employer Drug Test Steps

At most drug testing centers, employers can choose from several different types of drug tests. Each one follows different procedures for the collection and testing of the sample. Here’s what to expect during the collection process — and a look at how they are tested. 


For the urine-based drug test, a technician will lead you back to a secure bathroom and provide a collection cup. You will receive instructions on how to provide the sample and any rules the facility has to ensure accurate results. One such rule might be not turning on the tap water until after you return the cup. Except in rare cases, you will typically be given full privacy during the urine sample collection procedure.

Once you provide your sample, the facility will immediately check for tampering by verifying the urine is within body temperature range. It will verify that the sample quantity is 45 milliliters or more, ensuring enough for full testing procedures. This sample will then be split into two, allowing a portion to send out to an independent laboratory if requested.


Though useful, urine-based drug tests can only look back a few weeks at most, providing an incomplete look at the prospective employee’s drug use history. For a more complete look, testing centers may choose the hair follicle drug test, which can reveal all drug use in the past 90 days.

For this test, the technician will need to clip away at least 50 milligrams of hair. This will usually come from a hidden area on the head, taking a group of strands a pencil-thickness wide and 1.5 inches long. The testing center can also use body hair if the hair on your head is too short. Upon clipping away the hair, the facility will place the specimen in a sealed container, and then send it to the lab for testing.


Saliva-based drug tests are another method designed to eliminate the risk of tampering. The downside is that the test only detects drug use in the past week or less, providing the employer with an incomplete picture of the risk. But for some employers, that is enough to confirm you do not have a problem with drug use or addiction.

The collection process is quick and easy, only requiring the tech to place a collection pad between your cheek and gums. You will need to hold the pad there for two minutes, allowing it to absorb enough saliva for testing. After the timer goes off, the technician will remove the pad and place it in a vial that is then sealed up tight and sent to the lab. 

By completing these tests, you can verify that you do not have a drug problem and pose a low risk to the company in question. They can then move forward in offering you employment at the position you seek.

Substances Detected During Employer Drug Tests

Depending on the type of drug test you complete, the lab will be looking for any number of substances, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Opiates
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Ecstasy
  • PCP
  • Steroids
  • Alcohol

If these substances are detected, you will fail the test and your employer may rescind the job offer. At many testing centers, dilution and other issues can trigger an inconclusive test result, which employers may also consider a failed result.

Typical Timeframe for Results

Across all testing types, you can expect negative test results to come back within 24 hours. It could take longer, however, depending on the facility’s operating hours and when you took the test.

If the drugs or alcohol are detected in the sample, additional testing will need to be performed, pushing the response out a week or so. If this happens, the drug testing center may reach out to you with additional questions and potentially see if you would like an independent lab to take a look.

Getting a job is not the only time you may need to undergo a drug test. They are commonly used to assess those who have experienced a workplace injury, need clearance for sports, or in certain medical situations. In all those situations, what to expect from the drug testing process is largely the same. If you’re clean, you should have nothing to be concerned about, and should have this formality behind you in a short time.