By Betsy Morais
In Manhattan’s garment district, at offices with hot-pink walls and racks of leopard print, several dressed-down executives sat around a glass conference table. At one end was Bridie Loverro, who had taken the train in from Greenwich, Connecticut, with some associates to represent their service, QuadJobs. They supply employers with student labor at the ready, Loverro explained: it’s “interns on demand.” Their host, Michael Kaplan, the C.E.O. of a plus-size clothing company called Fashion to Figure, leaned back in a comfortable chair and considered the idea. “It’s the whole ‘try before you buy’ element,” he said, referring not to sample dresses but to people.
QuadJobs, which was started last year, by Loverro and two other women, in Greenwich, out of an office provided by an investor in the company, lists work for students in the New York area; Columbus, Ohio; and Chicago. Anyone with an e-mail address that ends with .edu can search the Web site and submit applications for free; employers are charged eight dollars and ninety-five cents per notice. Loverro, who wore a collarless white blouse, a navy pullover sweater, and tall boots, said that she has been pitching to companies and schools and “mombassadors.” Some forty-four hundred jobs have been posted. Opportunities vary, but in the gig economy, you take what you can get. The prospects, despite the glamorous ring of “internship,” often turn out to be less in the way of coveted vocational entrées than a means of securing beer money. Members of the site’s “honor roll” include Emma Webb, a neuroscience major from Colgate University, for babysitting and house cleaning, and Michael Degennaro, an accounting major from Fairfield University, for bartending.
In earlier years Loverro and her partners worked in coffee, retail, and banking; in much earlier years there were paper routes. “It used to be, if I wanted to hire a kid from Barnard, I would have to go to career services, I would have to put up a flyer,” she said. “The way that it has been done is actually so archaic.” The QuadJobs hires become part of a database and earn a “JobGPA” based on their employers’ ratings, for all future bosses to see.
Kaplan had already been trying out the system. “You can’t imagine how extensive it is just to get an intern,” he said. His company always hires two a year, from a design school, to work as part-time contractors. That needs to be set up in advance of a semester; recruits must go through training and earn college credit. “We hope that they are just up to speed at the time they have to leave,” he explained. But occasionally random extra work crops up. A couple of weeks prior, Fashion to Figure had brought in two on-demand interns—one to track merchandise, and the other to impart lessons in Snapchat to the company’s staff. ”The people that are here from school are put through more of a structured, longer onboarding than somebody simply being introduced to the brand and being thrown into work—it is different,” Kaplan said. “They’re paid the same: minimum wage.”
The QuadJobs position on compensation is non-interventionist. “We give no direction,” Loverro said. “We are really just a marketplace,” she went on. “They set the salary and the hours directly with the student, and pay them directly. We’re not involved in the transaction. If there’s a volunteer position, they’re not being paid.” As with the Swiss, neutrality for QuadJobs means avoiding controversies—the small (over paychecks) and the big (do internships amount to under-valued labor by those who don’t need to earn money?). So far, this has kept the company out of legal trouble.
“It’s all the employers’ risk,” Kaplan said. The rules for internships differ by state. In New York, interns have to get paid unless there’s some outstanding educational benefit, and the state enforces a ban on “productive work.”
Loverro suggested that some students might value know-how over cash. “It just depends,” she said. She thought some more. “Philosophically, we think it’s important for students to find means of making money, but we think it’s also important that they find experience and are able to network. It all bakes together.”
That afternoon, one of the Quadjobbers (Loverro’s preferred term), Maria Babaev, was sifting through rows of clothes—ladies’ sizes twelve to twenty-six—inspecting tags and making check marks in a pink notebook. At each rack, she spends forty-five minutes. Babaev, a sophomore biology major at Manhattanville College, in Purchase, New York, has wavy brown hair, and her nails were polished black and glittered. She lives at home with her parents and has been taking the train to work a couple of hours at Fashion to Figure on Tuesday and Fridays. “I’m a temp,” she said. (Her preferred term.) “When I come in, it’s very random what I do on that day. I’m helping out, but in the background.” She has worked twenty gigs through QuadJobs in the past six months—making cocktails at a house party, cleaning out closets for empty nesters.
Megan McLean, the Snapchat aficionado, doesn’t have a regular desk, so she was sitting at a vacant cubicle, scouring the Internet for articles about Fashion to Figure’s competitors. She wore a sparkly necklace. Kaplan strolled across the floor and looked over her shoulder. “I try to make my food as much as I can to save money,” she said.
“Smart,” he said.
McLean is spending a semester living in a dorm at Marymount Manhattan College, and her parents pay her college tuition. She hopes to land a steady job in fashion marketing when she graduates; failing that, she’ll try to get work as a nanny, or whatever she can land. “Interns have to understand that it’s for the long run,” she said. Some of her friends have unpaid positions. “Yeah, you may not get paid per se, but you get paid in experience.”
Babaev, still at the racks, wants to become a doctor and work in a hospital someday. “This has taught me that this is something I don’t want to go into,” she said.
This article was originally published by The New Yorker on November 11, 2015.