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Associate Vs. Assistant: What's The Difference? With Five Examples

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

Three key differences between associates and assistantsWhat is an associate?What is an assistant?The differences between associate and assistant jobs

Guide Overview

The real difference between associate and assistant

At the core, an associate's responsibilities within a company vary, and they are more objective-focused as well. Their tasks might include team management. Meanwhile, an assistant is often a second-in-command and a stand-in for supervisors when they're unavailable or away. The differences between an associate vs. an assistant position are clearer when we look at jobs in which the distinctions are common.

Three key differences between associates and assistants

The difference between these two roles is mostly a matter of context. Despite some career-specific exceptions, the key differences are these:

Education

When contrasting associate and assistant roles, one of the consistent themes is the degree the position requires. Often, the difference can be between no degree and having a Bachelor’s Degree, or having earned a bachelor’s degree vs. a master’s degree as well. Therefore, when searching for which role is best suited for you, you need to take your education into account. To get the job you want, do you need to further your education? Is a college degree necessary?

Salary

Knowing what you’re worth in the industry in question is essential to getting paid a fair salary. In the case of associate vs. assistant roles, the position title may indicate which of the two will pay a higher salary, or whether you’ll earn an hourly wage rather than an annual amount. What you should makeof course, comes down to your relevant education and experience. Knowing this bit of jargon and the informational context can help you zero-in on which job listings you should review and apply to.

Day-to-day tasks

Your position determines what you’re responsible for within an organization. Knowing the differences between assistant and associate roles can help you understand what to expect. In an associate position, your responsibilities may include customer service, organizing presentations, and social media management. On the other hand, assistants often manage teams, either internally like within a retail shop, or possibly global teams. They may work directly with company leaders to achieve the business’s vision. This can include doing employee evaluations and interviewing staff.

What is an associate?

An associate is frequently, though not always, a lower-tier employee. They are usually in a position with less seniority than someone in an assistant role. Employers use the term in job descriptions, offers, and contracts to reveal this. Associates should still have leadership skills, though. Not all associate positions are entry level; the meaning of the title does depend on the field. In industries like law, academia, business, retail, and publishing, the title can imply different professional rankings.

Examples of associate positions

Here are a few common examples of associate positions:

  • Associate Retailer: These individuals typically operate within a customer-focused environment.
  • Associate Attorney: An associate attorney can be a senior or junior employee. The term implies whether they have ownership within a firm.
  • Associate Director: These employees organize and prioritize the day-to-day tasks of their teams.
  • Associate Consultant: Consultation is a field in which “associate” is often used to indicate “a junior employee.”
  • Associate Customer Service Representative: Similar to retail employees, these individuals work in a customer-focused environment, but they may be slightly higher-tier than entry-level employees.

Further, note that some companies use the term “associate” as a general title for an entry-level employee.

What is an assistant?

An assistant is someone who is in direct contact with higher-tier employees in an organization. Personal assistants are different, however, as their jobs are specialized, and they usually assist an individual executive. Other positions with the term “assistant” may mean they have team development responsibilities. It could mean managing a team on their own, overseeing someone else while they oversee a team, or engaging in company-wide supervision.

Examples of Assistant Positions:

  • Assistant Store Manager: An Assistant Manager works closely with a higher manager, so they have likely been with the organization for some time or have previous relevant experience.
  • Assistant General Manager: Like the Assistant Manager, an Assistant General Manager works alongside a higher manager, but their responsibilities are more geared toward wide-scale employee management.
  • Assistant Director: This employee would most likely work alongside top-tier management to coordinate larger events and teams within an organization.
  • Assistant Office Manager: These supervisors are often in charge of hiring and training staff, as well as maintaining staff schedules.
  • Assistant Professor: The field of academia is one where the term “assistant” operates differently than in other fields. More on this later, but the key difference between assistant and associate professors is whether they expect tenure. Tenure also varies greatly between institutions and state standards.

The differences between associate and assistant jobs

Here are some examples of the differences between associate and assistant jobs across different industries.

Who is higher, assistant or associate?

Usually, assistant managers are a step below full managers, though it’s worth mentioning that retail managerial terms are business-specific. Assistant managers typically have the authority to do most things their managers can when the manager is unavailable. They are in a supportive role and can recognize what needs done in the store, can prioritize, and can complete tasks on their own. Assistant managers have acquired plenty of job experience within the workplace or with their employer, so they can manage independently in their role.

An associate manager is often on a lower tier than an assistant manager. Their position still requires leadership skills, as they may need to manage a small team or a department within the store, or they may need to oversee employees in the absence of a supervisor. The experience needed to be in associate management is less than what is needed for an assistant manager and their differing salaries reflect this. Learn more about Associate Manager jobs and salaries.

Professors and educators

Much like the managerial positions discussed above, what an associate professor can do vs. what an assistant professor can do varies largely from institution to institution. In the United States, an assistant professor is usually an entry-level member of the faculty and is on-track to applying for tenure at their institution, which they can do after a set number of years. They usually expect promotion to associate professor after about seven years of being at the university. One step up from an associate professor is full professor. This usually means getting tenure.

Associate Account Executive vs Assistant Account Executive

One area where the difference between associate and assistant is clear is in the role of an account executive. Associate Account Executives most often have a bachelor’s degree, and the national average salary is around $50,000, whereas Assistant Account Executives expect hourly wages. The workload of the associate is relevant to their particular educational background. They can be responsible for a variety of tasks, from social media management to global team management. An assistant’s responsibilities revolve more so around reconciling general ledger accounts, preparing PowerPoint presentations, and customer service.

Associate Director vs. Assistant Director

The difference between an assistant vs. associate director also illustrates the contrast well. Statistics show that Associate Directors most often have master’s degrees, while an Assistant Director is more likely to have a bachelor’s degree. These jobs also require staunchly different skill sets. Associate Directors can expect to oversee customer service and need skill in project management. An Assistant Director needs to focus on performance evaluations, developing work procedure, and facilitating communication between multiple departments. In sum, an Assistant Director likely plays a larger role in managing the key components of the institution.

Associate Editors and Assistant Editors

 Both Associate and Assistant Editors usually have bachelor’s degrees. Since their educational requirements are the same and their average national salaries are nearly the same as well, the key difference between these editors is the type of work they do. Assistant Editors can expect responsibility for overseeing editorial staff. They also focus on layout and general management of the media the company produces. An Associate Editor, though, is more hands-on; they tend to work with the material itself, whether that means copy editing, creating web content, or overseeing SEO.

The benefits of these jobs are congruent with the education needed for the roles. The salaries also reflect the differences between an assistant and an associate, but the main deciding factor is how the company applies the term. The role also differs within specific careers and institutions, especially within corporate and large-market retailers. Generally, the title of associate vs. assistant presents different expectations of the day-to-day responsibility of the employee. Usually, an assistant is higher up the ladder than an associate, though the exact requirements will vary according to industry, so area-relevant research is important. Once you’ve decided which role best suits your experience, start browsing to find the perfect job.

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