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It is now a common practice when applying for an MSL role online that you will be required to either create a resume via a resume wizard or to upload a resume through the company website.  Electronic resumes (e-resumes) are either plain text or HTML documents that are often attached to online MSL job applications when applying on company websites. The resumes that you include as an application online on a company website will not contain elements that might be included in traditionally formatted resumes like bold-text, italicizing, creative fonts, etc. but will need to be much more basic in format.

The Purpose of an E-Resume

When you submit your resume and application materials via a pharmaceutical, biotech or medical device company website, your resume will likely be entered into an applicant tracking system. This system is designed to primarily search resumes for specific keywords most related to the responsibilities of the MSL role that is posted and you are applying to.  For this reason, it is important that you embed certain keywords related to your specific Therapeutic Area or directly related experiences throughout your resume that match the role that you are applying to.  The system will match and retain only those resumes that contain the keywords the system has chosen for that role and discard the remainder unrelated or unmatched resumes.

Five Steps in Formatting Your MSL E-Resume to Apply Online

  1. Remove all current formatting

The format you used to create your resume as a Word document won’t be able to be read by the online application (remember that e-resumes are text or HTML documents.)

To remove the formatting, save the file as Plain Text or Text Only. In the dialog box that appears, choose the option for the insertion of line breaks.

  1. Use Notepad, WordPad, or Simple Text to Reformat

Close the original version of your resume and reopen to the text document using such editing software as Notepad, WordPad, or Simple Text.  The text version should not contain any graphics symbols, creative fonts, and bullet-points.  Text should be aligned to the left- margin.

  1. Use simple fonts and style

To ensure that the text can be read by the application software, use simple, sans-serif fonts such as Courier, Ariel, or Times New Roman. In this way, the software won’t misinterpret your text as a misspelled word or symbol.

Use a 12 point font as anything smaller won’t scan well.  Don’t incorporate any italics or underlining, as these won’t be readable by the software. Use capital letters to separate sections, such as work experience and education, rather than boldface type.

Rather than bullet points, use such standard keyboard characters as an asterisk or dash. Use the space key to indent rather than the TAB key since the tab won’t translate to the e-resume.  Ensure that your name, address, phone, and email address are all placed on separate lines with one blank line before and after.

  1. Incorporate relevant keywords

Applicant-tracking systems scan resumes for keywords that match the most important responsibilities of the specific MSL role. Embed relevant keywords to the role in your resume to ensure that your resume passes the initial pre-screen by the software. Try not to use the same two or three words but vary the keywords as appropriate to your past experience that matches the needs of the MSL role you are applying to.

Place the most relevant words at the beginning since the software may be limited in terms of the number of words it is able to read. Use nouns rather than verbs – “Medical Science Liaison”, “Key Opinion Leaders”, “Cardiovascular”, “Neurology” “name of drug products”, are more effective than, “researched”, “developed”, or “coordinated”. Avoid abbreviations since most keyword searches will bypass them.

  1. Test it out

After you have reformatted your resume into a text document, test it by sending an email to yourself, as well as to friends and associates who use a different Internet Service Provider (ISP).  Be sure to embed the resume into the body of the message rather than add it as an attachment.  Make any needed adjustments before submitting it as an application online.


Copyright 2013-2018 The Medical Science Liaison Society. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authorization. The MSL Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization dedicated to advancing the global MSL career.


Dr. Samuel Dyer is the Chairman of the Board of the MSL Society and the author of “The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break Into Your First Role“, the first step-by-step guide ever published on how to successfully land your first MSL role.