Many governments have placed priority on excellence in higher education as part of their policy agendas. Processes for recruitment and career advancement in universities thus have a critical role. The efficiency of faculty selection processes can be evaluated by comparing the subsequent performance of competition winners against that of the losers and the pre-existing staff of equal academic rank. Our study presents an empirical analysis concerning the recruitment procedures for associate professors in the Italian university system. The results of a bibliometric analysis of the hard science areas reveal that new associate professors are on average more productive than the incumbents. However a number of crucial concerns emerge, in particular concerning occurrence of non-winner candidates that are more productive than the winners over the subsequent triennium, and cases of winners that are completely unproductive. Beyond the implications for the Italian case, the analysis offers considerations for all decision-makers regarding the ex post evaluation of the efficiency of the recruitment process and the desirability of providing selection committees with bibliometric indicators in support of evaluation (i.e. informed peer review).