Nurturing Your Employability Skills

Durham student in suit leaning on bridge railing

In a competitive graduate job market, what are employability skills, and why are employability skills important? Simply put, these are the skills you can develop alongside your degree – from critical thinking and problem-solving to effective communication and teamwork – that will bolster your CV, prepare you for your career, and set you apart from other candidates.

To stand out in the global job market, students now need more than just a degree. Developing employability skills, for students can make the difference between struggling to find a job when you graduate and excelling in your chosen career.

For international students considering studying in the UK, Durham University stands out not only for its academic reputation but also for its prioritisation of developing employability skills. Durham's commitment to providing a transformative student experience is about challenging students to step out of their comfort zones and engage in activities beyond their academic courses. This approach both enhances professional development skills and ensures that Durham graduates are well-prepared, multifaceted individuals ready to make their mark in the world.

The Durham student experience moulds not just scholars, but the leaders, innovators, and business figures of the future.

Internships and placements

Both placements and internships offer an invaluable window into the working world. By gaining professional experience within a company, you will:

  • Gain sector-specific experience
  • Significantly enhance your CV
  • Immerse yourself in the culture of an organisation
  • Apply your degree knowledge in the workplace
  • Discover new cities or countries

Internships offer more than just a brief stint at a company; they are immersive experiences where you can test-drive a career path, develop professional skills, and gain insights that can only come from being part of a professional environment. You'll see first-hand how your classroom learning translates into the professional world, enhancing your employability skills and preparing you for the challenges of the job market.

During the summer vacation period, many Durham University students embark on full-time internships lasting 8-12 weeks, while others opt for part-time internships during term time. These opportunities are always paid, ensuring that your dedication and hard work are recognised and valued.

For some courses, work placements take this experience a step further. A Placement Year at Durham is an opportunity to dive deeper into your chosen field. It’s similar to a trial year in a graduate role, offering extensive training and real responsibilities. Lasting between 9 to 12 months, these placements often occur between your penultimate and final year of study.

William from Ghana

I did a one-year work placement in a company called Finbond. It’s a FinTech company that seeks to reduce the cost of investments by providing a portfolio management system to different asset managers, hedge funds and different firms. It has helped me a lot because I was working as a software engineer intern there and it just exposed me to the different possibilities and opportunities available in the FinTech industry as well as introducing me to standard ways of coding. It has set a pathway for me that I intend to pursue the FinTech industry.

William from Ghana
studied International Foundation Year in Science and Engineering.
Progressed to BSc (Hons) Computer Science


Volunteering, a core part of the Durham student experience, offers a unique opportunity not only to contribute positively to the community but also to significantly enhance your personal and professional growth.

Whether it’s working with local charities, participating in community projects, or engaging in university-led initiatives, these experiences can enrich your time as a student while also laying a strong foundation for your future career, enhancing your professional development skills and preparing you to step confidently into the global job market.

The advantages of volunteering include:

  • Soft Skill Development: Through volunteering, students develop empathy, teamwork, adaptability, and leadership – all key professional skills to develop.
  • Demonstrating Values: Beyond skill development, volunteering is also a testament to a student's values. Employers today are increasingly looking for candidates with a commitment to social responsibility and community engagement – which volunteering demonstrates.
  • Differentiated CV: In today’s competitive job market, a unique CV can set you apart. Volunteering experiences add depth to your experiences and provide talking points during interviews, showcasing your ability to apply employability skills in real-world situations.

Enrichment opportunities

For international students eyeing a vibrant study experience in the UK, Durham offers a unique blend of academic excellence and enriching opportunities, designed to develop vital employability skills.

Central to the Durham experience is our Collegiate system. When you join a College, you become part of a community that is more than just a place to live. Colleges are a mixture of staff and students from across disciplines and offer opportunities to participate, create, play, and support each other, contributing to a vibrant university experience. From organising events to volunteering, every opportunity at Durham’s Colleges is an avenue for students to discover new interests and develop professional skills.

Our wide range of student clubs and societies, including sports, music, arts, and theatre, as well as roles like Student Representative or Ambassador, are instrumental in nurturing soft skills like leadership, teamwork, and adaptability. Support from our Careers & Enterprise Centre ensures that students are well-equipped with the professional development skills necessary for today’s job market. Entrepreneurial initiatives are also a key part of our ethos, offering students the chance to venture into the world of business creation and management.

The Durham Leadership Framework, an engaging and cost-free programme, further enables students to explore core leadership skills, enhancing their journey towards becoming responsible leaders.

Post-Study Work Visa in the UK

The UK’s post-study work visa allows graduates to stay in the UK for up to two years (three years for PhD graduates) after completing their studies, opening doors to employment within the UK.

There are multiple benefits to the post-study work visa:

  • Professional Growth: The visa enables you to seek employment in the UK without needing a job offer beforehand. This flexibility is crucial in allowing you to find roles that align with your career aspirations and professional development skills.
  • International Exposure: Working in the UK exposes you to international work cultures, diverse teams, and a global business environment. Such exposure is vital in enhancing your employability skills in a global context.
  • Extended Learning: Practical experience gained during the post-study work period can complement your academic learning. It's a chance to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world scenarios, further developing your professional development skills.

Preparation for your future career

With a remarkable 92% of its international graduates in work or further study within 15 months of graduating (Graduate Outcomes Data 2020-21), Durham’s commitment to student success is clear. Ranking 13th in the UK for employability (Times Higher Education Global Employability University Rankings 2023-24), Durham University offers a springboard for international students to prepare for a successful career in the UK.

At the heart of this success is Durham’s Careers and Enterprise Centre, a dedicated resource helping students shape their future careers. The centre provides comprehensive support to make informed career plans, develop essential skills, gain valuable work experience, and prepare effectively for interviews.

The wider student experience at Durham also plays a pivotal role in nurturing employability skills. Volunteering, arts and culture, and internships are integral parts of university life, offering opportunities to develop professional development skills. Students are encouraged to explore their potential to the fullest, ensuring they leave Durham not just with a degree, but with a competitive edge in the global job market.

For international students interested in joining the University, understanding the entry requirements for the Durham University International Study Centre is the first step. It’s also important to take a look at information on fees.


Why are employability skills important for graduates?

  • Employability skills are important because they bridge the gap between academic knowledge and the practical demands of the workplace. In today’s competitive job market, employers look beyond academic achievements, seeking graduates who can adapt quickly, solve problems, communicate effectively, work in a team, and manage their time. These skills make graduates more marketable and prepared for diverse career challenges. 

What skills are important to your employability?

  • A number of professional skills can help improve your employability. Critical thinking and problem-solving enable you to tackle complex challenges effectively. Communication skills, both written and verbal, are essential for conveying ideas and working collaboratively. Adaptability and resilience are key in navigating the ever-changing work environment, while leadership and teamwork skills help in managing projects and contributing positively to team dynamics.

How can part-time work experience benefit me?

  • Part-time work experience is an invaluable aspect of professional development. It provides a practical context to apply and refine your employability skills. This experience is not just about earning; it’s about learning the nuances of working in a professional setting. Employers often value this practical experience, as it demonstrates your initiative and readiness to transition from the academic world to the workforce.