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In the past, when resumes were sent by snail-mail, the most important considerations were paper quality, paper color, and professional formatting. The first goal was to simply present your resume in such a way that it would capture the hiring’ manager’s attention.

Although the primary goal remains to present your resume in a way to capture the hiring manager’s attention, today the first goal has become to get past Applicant Tracking Software.  In this age of the electronic resume, it is no longer the hiring manager that your resume will first pass by.  Applicant Tracking Software is essentially a search engine for resumes that serves to pre-screen candidates by searching resumes for important relevant keywords and separate qualified from unqualified candidates.

The use of digital applicant screening has set a whole new set of important considerations for resumes. No longer are recruiters initially perusing resumes searching for candidates. Rather, they are downloaded into a database and digitally searched by the software for relevant keywords. Just as you insert certain words into Google to obtain certain results, so should you insert important relevant keywords in your resume to ensure that it gets “noticed” by the software.

Below are 3 strategies for resume keywords you can use to get past the Applicant Tracking Software and screening process and increase your odds that it will land in front of a recruiter or hiring manager.

  1. Embed words from the position description

In most cases, many of the keywords that resume databases will be searching for are the main responsibilities listed in the job description. For example, if you are looking for an MSL role and the job description requires that candidates have experience developing and managing KOL relationships within the CV therapeutic area, then each of these words should be embedded in your resume.  To better ensure that you included the most important keywords you may also want to review the job descriptions of related roles. Another option is to search through the LinkedIn profiles of other professionals within your drug or therapeutic area.

  1. Assume that your resume will be scanned by an Applicant Tracking System

Both large and small pharmaceutical companies are using keyword-search tracking software in their recruiting process so it is important that every resume you submit has incorporated the most relevant keywords.  Focus on what you have done in your career and highlight those experience that matches the keywords from each job description that you will apply for.     

  1. Don’t simply list keywords

While including a “skills” section in your resume is a viable method to ensure that relevant keywords are included, a list by itself is usually not sufficient to get noticed by the tracking software.

Many Applicant Tracking Systems look for the frequency of keywords spread throughout the entire document rather than just in a list format. For example if the job description states that building and maintaining effective relationships is important for the role, a statement in your resume such as “Maintained 30 effective KOL relationships in my region which led to 4 new IST’s being approved from 3 different KOL’s” might impress the hiring manager while also meet keyword requirements.

While it is important to create a resume that embeds important keywords, don’t neglect those qualities that serve to make your resume attractive to human eyes. These qualities include font style, size of the font, overall layout (e.g. use of white space and category headings), along with perfect spelling and grammar.  Like all marketing campaigns, a job search will be most effective when you address the needs of all audiences; in this case, both automated and human.



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.