Finding Hidden Opportunities – A New Approach to Job Hunting: Part 3

Written by Youssef Ramadan

Sitting in the lobby of Xerogrid, about to start a conversation with the CEO… I take a deep breath in, introduce myself as a third year student at the University of Leeds, and explained how I had found the company (called Xerogrid), a little about why I am interested in an internship or training with them, as well as a brief overview of my skills. To my surprise, the CEO was quite receptive, and mentioned that this was a critical time for the company, in which they would need the help of bright graduates to expand; so after briefly talking about what the company does, I left him with a copy of my CV, while he left me with…his business card!

Delighted with my achievement I told my flatmate the whole story after my bus ride back home, and he congratulated me. For the following two weeks I exchanged calls and emails with the company, and established an initial internship opportunity for December of that year. As lectures started the week after, I awaited the end of the semester in excitement, so I could begin my unconventional internship…

Soon enough, there it was, the long awaited December break! It did not take me long to get in touch with Xerogrid and ask them when I could get started, and after the first weekend from the start of the break, I made my debut.

It’s important to mention that interning (and working) in a start-up is quite different from traditional internship opportunities. For instance, while conventional opportunities are quite rigid and structured, so that the intern is trained in key areas that will later fill the company’s skills gap, start-up work is more flexible, spontaneous, and dynamic; aimed at satisfying immediate (and often critical) needs of the company, giving you a much more “hands-on” experience. For example, while most of my internship in Germany consisted in repetitive sample testing using a variety of machines, I was assigned much more significant tasks at Xerogrid, such as preparing a company profile and proposal as part of a large bid for a client in Africa, and analysing the opportunity within entering a new market, such as Spain.

Luckily for me, my internship did not include the typical “coffee-serving intern student” stereotype. In fact, it was ironically quite the opposite, as the workspace in which Xerogrid was based actually has a free hot drinks machine, (which I did not hesitate to use to quench my insatiable appetite for hot chocolate). This was the case for both the “NatWest Incubator”, and the “Wizu workspace”, the co-working space Xerogrid moved to after 2 years at NatWest. Perhaps this is also another difference to highlight, which is that it is quite common to have hot-desking facilities when working at a start-up, as opposed to traditional fixed offices, which to me, made my experience all the more interesting as I got to mingle with founders and employees from other start-ups in Leeds!

As time went by and my internship was nearing its end, Xerogrid surprised me (yes, it’s been a year quite full of surprises) with yet another opportunity – an all-expenses-covered engineering training course in Germany, in Schwabac, near Bayreuth where my summer school was! What a coincidence, I thought, and a great way to end my internship on a high. (It just so happens that both the University of Leeds and Xerogrid had ties with organisations in that area, though perhaps it is more than a coincidence, who knows…)

Having been to that area of Germany a few times now, I acted like a local expert, helping my team navigate the train station and airport (yet still only knowing one word in German, stikstof, which means nitrogen, I know, completely out of context, but it’s the only thing I had learned in my prior internship…). After that, we spent 3 days attending workshops and cultural events organised by one of Xerogrid’s solar components suppliers, before saying goodbye to the city and heading back to Leeds.

Fast forward a few months later, here I am, approaching the end of my placement year with Xerogrid, and having learned so much across a variety of departments that my brain is going to explode. Wait what, how did we jump from the December internship to a placement year, you may ask, this is what happened…

After my internship, I spoke to a few career consultants at the university regarding the pros and cons of a placement year, and whether it was better to progress with one company in one role for a year or take several summer internships. Having considered my unique placement opportunity, as well as the general benefits of a placement year such as more in-depth knowledge of certain technical areas as well as the prospects of a graduate job with the company you work with, I decided to contact Xerogrid and enquire about a placement year, which they were more than happy to offer me.

All in all, this placement year has been very fruitful, allowing me to get involved in areas of business that I could never have thought I could delve into so early in my career, from helping prepare a business plan and pitch deck to raise investment, to attending client meetings, to networking with partners at CEOs of significant corporates in the Leeds City Region, and even getting an ex-shadow MP’s business card! I have also been lucky enough to perform more “adventurous” tasks such as going on site to manually fit solar panels in beautiful green fields, and even acting as a live translator for my manager as he was dealing with the local authorities to setup a company branch in Spain!

Lastly, I have learned an indescribable amount throughout my time with Xerogrid, both in terms of technical and soft skills. From the basic components of an off-grid solar system, to the real meaning of good communication skills (it’s not just knowing how to give an engaging presentation to an audience, trust me, but that’s a topic for another time…). If I were to give one last piece of advice, it would be to open your mind up to different ways of thinking. Read, talk to people, try out things for yourself, and when it doesn’t work, try again, try it differently, eventually, it will work…this is the basis of creative job hunting.

If you have any questions about this experience, please get in touch!


Youssef Ramadan
Hi! I’m Youssef, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student, currently on my placement year. While I am Egyptian, I was born and raised in Bahrain, a small island in the middle...
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