Accessibility statement

Alternative working

Most graduates expect to work around 40 hours a week, over five days, between 9am and 6pm. Although this may be the norm, it isn’t for everyone. You might want to explore alternative options, including:

  • self employment, such as setting up your own business or freelancing
  • portfolio careers, where you combine two or more different jobs with different employers, or self-employed work
  • flexible working, where you work a different schedule to typical working hours.

The University offers a range of support to students who are setting up their own business or doing freelance work. If you are looking for advice or if you have any questions, please email

Working for yourself

Self-employment can include setting up your own business, freelance or contractor work, or buying into a franchise.

Only a small number of recent graduates are self-employed, but it can be very rewarding if you have the right skills.

Is it right for you?

On the positive side, you can have independence to work when, where and how you like, and have high levels of job satisfaction by working on something you’re passionate about.

On the downside, you may face financial insecurity (especially in the early stages of your career), lack of employee benefits like paid annual leave, and high levels of responsibility (in decision making, paying tax and organising a pension).

You can use your time at university to develop your enterprise skills to prepare for self-employment. You might also want to arrange an internship or part-time work with a small business, so you can see what it’s like to run a company.

Setting up a business

We offer support and advice about setting up your own business - find out more on our enterprise pages.

If you’re an international student studying on a Student visa you are not allowed to do any self-employed or freelance work, but you may be able to apply for a Start-up visa.


Freelancers work for themselves and make money by offering their services to businesses.

They can work in all kinds of sectors, but are most common in creative arts, journalism, IT, certain legal professions and health-related therapy.

Contractors are similar to freelancers, but while a freelancer will usually work for a number of clients at any one time, and often work from home, contractors usually work for one company at a time and are often based in the company’s offices.

Being a freelancer has pros and cons. On the plus side, you have the freedom to decide how and where you work, and how much work you take on.

On the other hand, you won’t get employee benefits like sick pay or paid annual leave, and it can take time to develop a good reputation, meaning work might be hard to find at first.

Gig economy

You may have heard the term ‘gig economy’ over the last few years. If you work in the gig economy, instead of earning a regular wage, you work for yourself and take on short-term contract work usually through digital platforms. You get paid for each ‘gig’ you do.

Those in favour of working this way say it offers flexibility to work when you want. But others argue that many businesses use ‘independent contractors’ instead of employees as a way of cutting costs.

The gig economy is usually associated with courier work or taxi driving. But people in other industries can work in it too. For example, websites like Toptal and 90 Seconds connect clients to freelance IT and creative professionals for short term work.

The UK Government has published research into why people choose to work in the gig economy and their experience of it.

Portfolio careers

Having a portfolio career means doing two or more different jobs for different employers. It could also mean combining employment with self-employment.

Why pursue a portfolio career?

Listen: York graduate Dan talks on our What do you actually do? podcast about how to make a portfolio career work

People have portfolio careers for a number of reasons. A portfolio career might let you follow your interests, avoid the traditional 9 to 5 job or achieve personal or financial goals. So, while some people with a portfolio career will have a number of jobs doing the same thing, other people choose to pursue a mix of jobs in different sectors. For example, an accountant could also collect and sell antiques, and run a consultancy business.

Instead of being dependent on your income from one job, a portfolio career means you have money coming in from different sources. That means if you’re made redundant, the financial hit isn’t as great.

Portfolio careers could also open more opportunities. You might not want to go down the typical route to management, there might be a lack of full-time jobs in your particular sector, or there might be limited ways to progress your career. Building up a portfolio could create more opportunities to develop.

However, it can be difficult to manage your time and balance your priorities between different jobs. And, like freelance work, there are often financial risks until you’ve built up your portfolio, especially if part of your work is self-employment.

If you’re interested in a portfolio career, you can use your time at university to develop your enterprise skills.

Flexible working

Flexible working is any working schedule that’s outside a normal working pattern. This could include:

  • working from home/remote working
  • compressed hours, where you work full time hours over fewer days
  • annualised hours, where you have to work a certain number of hours over a year but have some flexibility over how you work
  • flexitime, where you choose when to start and end your day, but usually work agreed ‘core hours’ (eg 10am to 4pm each day).

Even though fewer than one in ten job adverts mentions it, every employee in the UK has the right to request flexible working.

Some employers embrace flexible working more than others. If you think it’s right for you, try reading company reviews on Glassdoor to see if it’s mentioned as one of the benefits.

It isn’t a good idea to ask about flexible working in your job interview. It might give the impression that you’re more focused on what time you can finish than on doing a good job.

If flexible working is very important to you, or if you need flexible hours to accommodate things like childcare, mention this after you’ve been offered the job.

Related pages

  • Talk to us - information about our appointments if you need to talk to someone about your next steps
  • Enterprise - learn how the university can help you improve your entrepreneurial skills