The Prodigal Academic has posted an excellent and detailed post on how the process of screening of applicants for tenure-track jobs works in the searches she (he?) is involved in. Prodigal Prof — who self-identifies as an assistant professor on a science faculty — describes how a pool of 210 applicants is reduced to 140, then 70, then 35, then five. Those five applicants are then invited for interviews, Prodigal Prof says, and they all start out with a fresh slate.
Of particular note: Unless they’re “super amazing,” candidates without a postdoc are trimmed right off, along with candidates who are not in the right subfield. (“Super amazing” candidates are retained without a postdoc, and even if the subfield is wrong.) Many applications are thrown out because they’re not complete — usually a missing reference letter (one missing letter is blamed on a flaky writer and forgiven; two means instant elimination).
Also of interest: Prodigal Prof says they don’t really care where you got your Ph.D. or did your postdoc; it’s your productivity they’re measuring. Science or Nature papers aren’t required, but journal quality has to be high. They seek a mix of first-author papers (indicating independence) and non-first-author papers (indicating collaboration).
They expect serious “weirdnesses” — no adviser letter; a major gap in the CV; an exceptionally long postdoc — to be addressed in the cover letter or a reference letter. Otherwise, that’s grounds for elimination. And the final vetting — the reduction of the long list of 35 to the list of five who are interviewed — involves a great deal of luck, Prodigal Prof admits.
There’s lots more good information in the post — and also in the comments, which all seem to be from other science-professor bloggers. This is required reading for aspiring academic scientists.
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