What do recruiters look for?

Recruitment manager James Stewart lends his expertise on how to get ahead in the ever-competitive job market.

James Stewart
Michael Page recruiter James Stewart has some job hunting advice for recent uni graduates. 


Ah, job seeking. It can sometimes seem like a dark art, and feel like a thankless, labour-intensive and repetitive task. Especially after the buzz of studying and the excitement that comes with thinking about what your future holds. 

Tools like ChatGPT have altered the recruitment landscape (though as this ABC article cautions, it pays to use this software wisely, if at all), easing the process in some ways. 

But the art of fine-tuning your resume, customising your cover letter, frequently scanning online portals for relevant jobs and reviewing position descriptions remains a time-consuming affair. One thing that has improved dramatically (thank goodness) is the state of the job market.   

How easy is it to find a graduate job in Australia these days?

James Stewart, a manager who works within HR & Talent Acquisition Recruitment at global recruitment agency Michael Page, explains the current change in power dynamic here in Australia. 

“Jobseekers are at a bit more of an advantage at the moment,” he says. “There are probably more jobs available than skilled candidates in the market; as a candidate there are a lot more opportunities than there used to be.” 

The stats show this to be unequivocally true, particularly where grads are concerned. 

Following the Global Financial Crisis, which kicked off in mid-2007 and lasted until 2009, graduates had a rough time of it. The Graduate Careers Australia report released in 2011 shows that those who graduated in 2010 found it more difficult to secure full-time work than at any other time since 1994. And the lasting impact of the crisis meant that it wasn’t until 2015 that both employment and salaries rose for graduates once again. 


What do recruiters look for
It's a good time to be looking for a job, James explains, with more opportunities available than there used to be.


While Covid has had wide-ranging impacts on the job market and corporate culture—both for better and for worse—the outlook for graduates today hasn’t been this rosy in nearly 15 years. 

As reported by the 2022 Graduate Outcomes Survey, the full-time employment rate for domestic bachelor degree graduates rose from 69% in 2021 to 79% in 2022—the highest level since 2009. 

And the overall employment rate for domestic undergraduates increased from 84.8% to 88.3%. 

But even in 2019, prior to the global pandemic and the unexpected upturn in jobs, a report from The Australia Institute’s Centre For Future Work found that education was a key factor in shaping career success. Individuals with university degrees were more likely to be employed, to have more stable jobs, and to be paid more. 

The report also forecasted that half of new jobs created in the coming five years will require a degree. So if you’re considering pursuing further education there’s never been a better time to start. Through Open Universities Australia you can choose from more than 980 degrees and 2,800 subjects, all accessible remotely and structured around a timeline that suits you. 

In addition to the demand for good candidates exceeding supply, James explains that his clients these days are much more open to remote working, meaning that the pool of jobs available has effectively expanded even further. “If the candidate looks good on paper, they can make it work,” he says.  

What do recruiters look for in a resume and cover letter?

It’s all well and good knowing there are more opportunities out there than before; the question is how do you land that dream gig? A tidy resume is a good place to start. 


The first thing I notice,” says James, “is how [the resume] is set out. It’s your first impression of the person. If you have a CV that’s formatted correctly, it shows a level of care. And what you can generally tell from grads is how much time and effort they have put into their resume.”

While each and every recruiter and industry has its own quirks and processes, James’s personal view is that the cover letter is somewhat redundant these days. “I’m not a big fan,” he explains. “I don’t read them because I find that so many people just copy and paste, [and as such] they don’t add much [if] any value.”

What do recruiters read first about you? 

James himself landed his job at Michael Page as a freshly minted graduate nearly six years ago. And the team he leads is also mostly made up of grads. 

While studying he worked part-time at Coles as a customer service supervisor, and he notes that having a role in a similarly large and reputable organisation can stand you in good stead, citing previous experience at businesses such as Coles, McDonald’s and Woolies as one thing he looks for in graduate candidates without much professional experience. 

“You learn a bit about corporate culture and how business operates [there],” he explains. “Not that we’d discount people who work in a cafe, shop or bar. Our philosophy [is to look for] someone who’s had good tenure throughout their uni studies, not chopping or changing jobs too quickly.” 

Working at supermarket
It's worth including your part-time supermarket or cafe job on your resume if you don't have much experience, says James.  

The ability to ‘stay the course’ applies to your studies too, James adds, indicating that it’s a good test of character, demonstrating your resilience, commitment and passion (aka assets that are much sought-after in the competitive job market). 

“It can be very tough starting a new job,” he explains. “There's a stereotype that if they can't [commit to a course] they're not gonna stick it out [in a job]. [So] a concern, or red flag, would be if they’ve changed courses three or four times.”

What makes you a good candidate?

In spite of an ever-changing job market and a burgeoning number of graduate programs, one challenge typically remains for recent grads without ‘real world’ experience: that elusive first job. 

“For a lot of the people that come out of uni, it's tougher to get your first job than your fourth, fifth or sixth,” James notes. “[Having limited experience] is an easy way to get knocked back.” 

So what can you do to avoid this seemingly unsolvable quandary? If you want to stand out from the longlist, James says there’s an easy way to convey your passion, perseverance, proactiveness and people skills: call. 

Once you submit the application, call the consultant that’s looking after that role. Because if you talk to them, nine out of ten recruitment consultants will ask you more questions about yourself. And if you talk to them on the phone you can portray a lot of the soft skills [that will likely be required for the role].”


Even if it’s your first ‘real’ job outside of uni and you’re up against some stiff competition, James says he would still recommend them for an interview because they’ve proactively called him. 

Another potential asset to have up your sleeve is an internship, notes James. “Internships would definitely help them,” he explains, “especially [in a field such as] finance. “A junior candidate or someone looking for a career change might have worked at an NGO [non-government organisation], and that exposure is definitely an advantage.” 


Want to boost your employability through further study? Explore the new and upcoming courses that are available online with leading universities. 


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