What Is an Associate in the Workplace? Definition and Types

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 13, 2022

Published September 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Job titles that include the word “associate” are common in the workplace today. However, depending on the industry, the addition of this term can change both the rank and the responsibilities the role requires. Learning what the term is and how companies might apply it to their job needs can help you understand when you want to seek an associate position. In this article, we define what an associate is, explain the associate job title, and look at examples of associate jobs and responsibilities.

What is an associate?

The word associate shows that the employee has an entry or mid-level position. Associates' managers may remove the word associate in the job title after a period of work that shows their abilities. For example, a manager is a more senior role than an associate manager. You see the term associate used on job descriptions, contracts of employment, and other official documents.

An associate can mean a few different things depending on the job:

  • Rank: Associate-level positions are often positions that people explore for the first time. After working as an associate in rank for some time, their titles may remove the associate label.

  • Position: Associate can mean employee as well. For example, customer service associates can be an interchangeable term with customer service representatives.

What are some areas where you find associates?

There are many professional areas where you may find associates. Sometimes, you might see the word associate applied differently for different functions. Here are some specific examples:

Law

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 have prospects for career advancement within the legal field. Legal associates are typically entry or mid-level positions where professionals perform the same duties as lawyers, like working cases and advising clients.

University

An associate professor is a mid-level professor. They also have academic tenure, which provides a level of job security. This rank is higher than assistant professor but still lower than the title of professor. Professionals in this role might be research associates, adjunct associates, or visiting associates. A professor earns the title of associate after working as an assistant. The role typically requires five or six years of teaching.

Business

A business associate performs actions involving protected health information. Companies that hold the title of “business associate” guarantee the integrity, safety and proper use of private medical information. Business associates often provide claims processing services, data management, transmission services, or electronic health services.

Retail

Some companies describe their entry-level employees as associates. Associates may have fewer responsibilities than higher-level employees, but they often can work toward promotions if they show their selling or leadership abilities. For example, retail associates can be sales clerks, cashiers, greeters, or shop assistants.

Related: Interview Questions for Retail Positions

What are some top associate jobs?

Several job titles include the term "associate," including:

1. Customer service associate

National average salary: $14.38 per hour

Primary duties: Customer service associates maintain positive relationships between companies and their customers. They answer customer queries, respond to complaints, and recommend products. Some specific duties include:

  • Responding to customer queries and complaints on the phone, in person, or through email

  • Learning and communicating company policies

  • Following up with departments and customers while resolving issues

  • Recommending products or alternatives that a customer might want

  • Answering questions about any products, services, or policies

  • Embodying company values and brand

Related: Customer Service Skills: Definition and Examples

2. Sales associate

National average salary: $15.03 per hour

Primary duties: A sales associate, or retail associate, assists customers in finding and purchasing products or services. Sales associates can work in corporate environments or retail stores. Some duties of a sales associate include:

  • Greeting customers

  • Operating cash registers

  • Providing refunds or resolving complaints

  • Reaching established sales goals

  • Cross-selling and up-selling

  • Learning about new products and sales

Related: 10 Sales Associate Skills and How To Improve Them

3. Associate editor

National average salary: $19.50 per hour

Primary duties: Associate editors often report to writing managers, editorial directors, or acquisitions editors and assist with administrative and editorial tasks. In addition, associate writers may work in marketing departments, newspapers or other media, or publishing companies. Your associate phase could be an entry-level or probationary period before you become a full-time writer. Some duties you may perform as an associate writer include:

  • Researching for new writing projects

  • Editing content, including grammar and spelling checks

  • Researching possible authors for acquisition

  • Reviewing content formatting

  • Preparing draft outlines

  • Collaborating with different departments to understand style and content needs

  • Meeting project deadlines

  • Assisting full-time writers and editors with their needs

4. Associate manager

National average salary: $45,438 per year

Primary duties: Associate managers are professionals who manage the staff of a department, store, or organization. They often oversee support staff and ensure that all administrative tasks are complete. For example, associate managers might hire and manage clerks, associate clerks, receptionists, or other administrative professionals. Some of their job duties include:

  • Hiring new employees

  • Training staff to perform basic tasks like filing or answering phones

  • Overseeing supply inventory

  • Ensuring teams comply with company and government guidelines

  • Performing clerical duties as needed

Related: Top Manager Skills Every Manager Needs

5. Program associate

National average salary: $20.90 per hour

Primary duties: Program associates are professionals who work in schools, corporations, or non-profits to assist with program management. They provide both project management and administrative support as needed. Some duties of a program associate include:

  • Supporting program manager and program directors for all events and initiatives

  • Communicating with business and community partners

  • Researching community needs

  • Managing daily operations and resource needs

6. Clerical associate

National average salary: $24.37 per hour

Primary duties: Associate clerks, or clerical associates, are office employees that help with administrative duties. For example, a clerical associate might work at the front desk for a legal office. Some job duties that you may find in a job description include:

  • Photocopying documents

  • Ordering office supplies

  • Delivering mail

  • Filing client documents

  • Registering payments

  • Answering phones

7. Associate professor

National average salary: $57,409 per year

Primary duties: Associate professors are full-time professors that are on a path to earning the title of professor. You might follow the path from adjunct professor to assistant professor to associate professor. Some duties include:

  • Writing lesson plans and course syllabi

  • Researching in your area of teaching

  • Serving as advisory to students in your major

  • Holding in-person or online classes and lectures

  • Learning and applying different pedagogies and methods of teaching

Related: How To Become an Adjunct Professor in 5 Steps (With Tips)

8. Associate director

National average salary: $92,487 per year

Primary duties: Associate directors are roles in various organizations that manage the daily operations of a business. While directors and executives set strategic goals, the associate director decides how to implement them. They can also evaluate the individual and departmental progress of a team. Some responsibilities of an associate director include:

  • Preparing reports for directors and executives

  • Using project management techniques

  • Improving processes and identifying areas for improvement

  • Creating budgets and resource plans

  • Supporting leadership with the execution of company goals

  • Creating new policies

9. Associate vice president

National average salary: $107,625 per year

Primary duties: An associate vice president is a newly hired executive who typically earns this role by excelling in previous roles. Like associate directors, they may lead their teams as project managers and oversee daily operations within a department or organization. In addition, directors and associate directors may report directly to them.

Related: What Are Job Levels at Work? (With Sample Jobs and Salaries)

Tips for finding an associate position

An associate position is a nice option if you're seeking to enter a new industry or career field. Here are some tips you can follow when searching for an associate position:

  • Search online: Search for associate positions through online job sites or look up a company you'd like to work for. On some job search sites, you can select the level of seniority you're looking for from a drop-down menu, which may include associate-level positions.

  • Seek entry-level positions: Starting at a lower authority level in a company or organization allows you to gain skills, practical experience, and professional contacts to help you on your path to a later promotion. When exploring job opportunities, see if companies offer associate-level positions you may receive with a promotion.

  • Include associate titles on your resume: When writing your resume, remember to include the associate term in the relevant job titles in your work experience section so potential employers receive an accurate overview of your history. 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.”

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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