Q&A: What Is an Associate?

By Indeed Editorial Team

June 9, 2021

This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach

Job titles that include the word “associate” are common in the workplace today. In this article, we define the term associate, explain the associate job title and look at examples of associate job descriptions.

What is an associate?

The word associate shows that the employee has a lower ranking position than their colleagues who do not have the term in the same title. For example, an associate manager has a little less seniority than a manager. You will see the term associate used on job descriptions, contracts of employment and other official documents.

Related: What Is an Entry-Level Job?

Alternative definitions

In addition to our general definition, there are some other variations in the meaning of this term. In some cases, you might see the word associate used a little differently. Here are some specific examples:

Law

Associate attorneys hold a specific rank in a legal firm. An associate attorney confers with clients, conducts legal research, writes legal contracts and reports the progress of a case to all interested parties. Good associate lawyers will have prospects for career advancement within the legal field.

Academia

An associate professor is someone who finishes their probationary period, which typically lasts about seven years. They also have academic tenure, which provides a level of job security. Associate professors hold an intermediary title, so they have more seniority than assistant professors.

Business

A business associate is a person or organization that carries out actions involving protected health information. Companies that hold the title of “business associate” guarantee the integrity, safety and proper use of private medical information. 

Retail

Some companies describe their low-level employees, such as sales assistants or servers, as associates. This is often done to show the value the company places in its employees. Associates may have fewer responsibilities than higher-level employees but they are often on a track toward a pay raise or promotion.

Due to the different meanings the term "associate" can have, it is important for you to be aware of the context in which it is being used. If you are considering taking an associate position, make sure to get as much specific information as you can before signing a contract.

Related: 20 Top-Paying Associate Degree Jobs

Associate examples

There are a number of job titles that include the term “associate," including:

  • Associate clerk

  • Associate manager

  • Associate director

  • Associate vice president

  • Associate writer

  • Associate program developer

  • Associate officer

  • Sales associate

Some corporate employers may use the term assistant interchangeably with associate. If this creates any confusion for you, look at the details in the job description to get a clear idea of what will be expected of you in the role. Additionally, do some research on the company to find out more about what responsibilities they give their associate employees.

Sample associate job descriptions

The next step in understanding associate positions is to look at some specific job descriptions. Here are a few examples:

Example: Associate manager

The associate manager will:

  • Oversee the work of all staff members

  • Ensure an excellent customer experience by responding to problems as they arise

  • Keep up-to-date records on products sold and total daily sales

  • Participate in regular meetings to discuss company projects and objectives

  • Cooperate with the manager to develop and improve company procedures

  • Conduct regular market research to determine the effectiveness of the company’s sales strategy

The associate manager may be required to perform other duties within the company commensurate with their skills and experience.

Example: Associate director of marketing

A successful candidate for the position:

  • Plans and directs the marketing department’s daily operations

  • Reports to the executive marketing director on progress toward company targets

  • Implements quarterly and annual strategic plans agreed upon by senior management

  • Organizes and fosters the training of new staff members and career development opportunities for senior employees

  • Consults with the executive director to develop future operational plans

  • Attends senior-level meetings to present on the work of the marketing department

The associate director may be called upon to perform other tasks depending on specific skill sets and experience.

Example: Associate editor

The responsibilities of the associate editor include:

  • Reviewing and editing content written by staff writers or freelancers

  • Creating and enforcing deadlines for projects

  • Supervising the progress of their editing team

  • Overseeing the productivity of an individual department during high-demand periods

  • Writing regularly-scheduled editorial articles for publications

  • Checking content sources for accuracy and expertise

Often, an associate editor with excellent work performance history will be eligible for promotion within two years.

Related: 15 Jobs You Can Get With an Associate Degree

Tips for finding an associate position

An associate position is an excellent option for individuals seeking to enter a new industry or career field. When searching for associate-level jobs, try entering the term “associate” alongside your desired job title in the search bar. On some job search sites, you can also select the level of seniority you are looking for from a drop-down menu. Starting at a lower authority level in a company or organization gives you the opportunity to acquire skills, practical experience and professional contacts that can help you on your path to a later promotion.

When you are writing your resume, remember to include the associate term in the relevant job titles in your work experience section. For example, if you worked with a company as an associate operations manager for five years, write the title out in full rather than simply including “operations manager.” You will make it easier for potential employers to see what your experiences and competencies are and will also give them an accurate overview of your career history.

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