Suppose that an applicant got scooped on a research paper and is applying for jobs. This is reflected in a lack of publications. Is that taken into consideration? Or will it be a huge blow to an applicant's chances to highly competitive jobs?
I'm a little surprised by the implicit assumption that "scooped" ==> "no paper whatsoever."
It's often possible--and desirable--to publish the scooped work anyway. It might have less impact than it otherwise would have, but it's miles better than nothing. Furthermore, it's unlikely that both papers tackle the problem exactly the same way; highlight those differences in your revised version. If nothing else, replications are increasingly appreciated. This is especially true in trendy areas, where both scooping and dubious, non-replicable results are most likely.
It would be gauche for you to complain about this directly on your cover letter or CV (how would this even work?!). With a publication, however, your references can write:
"Grad Student's main project, characterizing the properties of l-Phlebotinum and d-Phlebotinum, was just accepted at the Journal of Decent Results. Although his thesis committee praised the work as a technical tour de force, it unfortunately attracted less attention than it might have after Evil et al. (2018) published similar results last December in Science."
Obviously, you'd prefer not to get scooped, but this does demonstrate that you're working on 'hot' problems that people do find interesting, which is better than nothing.
They might empathize if you somehow decide to mention it somewhere in your CV/cover letter/research statement/whatever. But in the end, you will be judged based on what you have actually produced. "Getting scooped" is difficult to verify if you have no publications. It's easy to say "I was totally going to say that!" when someone else says something clever. It's another thing to do the research well, write it down, iron out the inevitable kinks, fight with editors and peer reviewers to get your research publish... and to do all that faster than your competitors. Unless you can prove that you have great potential, then it is likely that committee will prefer someone who has published papers over someone who has almost published papers.
I am afraid that "I've been scooped" during the job interview in academia will be perceived as an upscale version of "a dog ate my coursework" excuse, particularly if a candidate has no publications at all.
- Academic jobs usually require PhD, and PhD students are usually expected to publish a few papers during their PhD. At a very least one would expect papers based on PhD thesis.
- Scooping is possible if the candidate presented their result publicly but was too slow to publish it. In academia "publish or perish" is an important motto, particularly for early and mid-career academics. A proven inability to publish results in time is not something hiring committees will particularly like.
Getting scooped will only really reflect badly on you if you could have avoided it, e.g. by working harder. If it happens, and you publish your paper anyway, just a bit later than someone else's, it might be a minor negative when applying for jobs (this one paper of yours had less impact than it might have done), but it's unlikely to be a huge blow, particularly if you've published other good papers. After all, at least you independently had the good idea in question.
By contrast, moaning about getting scooped, and using it as an excuse for why you don't have many papers, will reflect badly on you. It will come across as an unwillingness to take personal responsibility when things go wrong for you, which is not a desirable quality in a candidate.
TL;DR: One scooped paper won't kill your chances. A lack of publications overall might well, depending on the job. Having few publications and making weak excuses for why will almost certainly kill off your chances.
My experience is that "scooping" doesn't actually happen. The way one would define it is that you had an idea that you talked about at some conference or similar, and someone else published it before you. But how do you prove that you really were the first to think of this? Oftentimes, ideas are "out there": they follow from the review others have done, and everyone has the same idea.
As a committee, I would call bull shit. (Excuse my language.) If you had the idea first, and just took six months longer than someone else to get it submitted, it seems quite unlikely that an editor or reviewer would know about the competing paper. Both would likely have gotten published. So I agree with the other answer that says that a committee would like call this excuse the equivalent of "dog ate my homework". It just sounds like an excuse.
Don't think of this along the lines of "getting scooped".
A department works very hard to identify and recruit faculty that will be competitive in the academic domain. Anything in your portfolio that might suggest there may be an issue with staying competitive will reflect negatively on a candidate.
These days, developing faculty work very hard to make their portfolio look "right". They publish like crazy, apply for and get travel awards, compete like mad for "best abstract" recognitions, make sure they're nominated for and lobby aggressively for young investigator awards....
If your portfolio doesn't look like that, the next applicant's might. Given a choice between the two extreme portfolios, a hot department will opt for the nice-looking one every time. A not-so-hot department might take what they can get.
If there is something wrong with your portfolio, get introspective, and go to interviews prepared to discuss how you're going to improve it, instead of offering excuses about why it's not so hot.