Our company is a mid-size engineering firm.

Two of my colleagues were recently promoted to Associates of the company today and I'm pretty pleased with it as I know at least one of them was long overdue in my opinion.

I have an eye towards long-term career growth at this company, but have never understood exactly what it means to be promoted to an Associate of the company.

Does this title have a common definition within business parlance or is it strictly company specific?

  • 9
    This will vary wildly company to company -- at least here in the USA.
    – Neo
    Jun 18 '19 at 14:05
  • 1
    Everyone at my company is an "associate"
    – chevybow
    Jun 18 '19 at 14:06
  • I agree it'll vary widely in the general sense, but in the context of a traditional privately owned engineering firm, the potential meanings are fairly standard. I'm sure this question will attract "company specific" close votes but I feel it's fairly straightforward and answerable.
    – dwizum
    Jun 18 '19 at 14:11
  • 1
    Is your firm a partnership? If so, “associate” typically means that an individual is now on a career path that leads to partner.
    – Jay
    Jun 18 '19 at 14:28
  • In most engineering firms I've seen, "associate" is the lowest entry-level job title available. OP, I'm curious what your current title is where "associate" would be a step up. It could be your company is doing something nonstandard.
    – Seth R
    Jun 18 '19 at 15:25

It's company-specific.

I previously worked for a large aerospace company. Associate {Discipline} Engineer was the lowest level, typically a recent college graduate with little to no internship experience. {Discipline} Engineer was the next level and was where college graduates with some experience were hired. And from there, you would progress up to Senior and Staff and Principle. There were also grades (I, II, III) within each level for some more granularity, but those were almost exclusively pay and not role or responsibility changes.

The grade of "Staff" also varies, and is a good example. At that employer, a Staff Engineer was more experienced and held more responsibilities than a Senior Engineer. However, a Staff Accountant is usually a lower ranking position than a Senior Accountant at many companies, from colleagues who work in finance and accounting.

However, at your company, it seems like Associate is more than an entry-level or junior position, since it's something you are aspiring toward.

You should consult with your manager during a 1:1 session about your career growth and understanding what the criteria is for the next level and what you can do to demonstrate the ability to take on more responsibilities.


The meaning of the title will vary from context to context - your best bet is to discuss with an HR rep if you're unclear.

That said, the word "associate" is commonly used in two scenarios in traditional engineering firms. In both cases it implies "junior" but the context is very different:

  • as a modifier to a title, i.e. associate engineer meaning junior engineer - someone who is working on routine engineering tasks under the direction of a more senior engineer.
  • as a modifier to company ownership or control, as in the uppercase, proper noun Associate. Typically this implies "junior partner" - someone who is involved in senior management but not at the level of actual executives. Typically, the Associates at an engineering firm are involved in day to day operations and are working for a specific Partner in the firm. They may be aligned with the interests or expertise of that partner, for instance.

The proper-noun Associate title is typically a fairly senior position, and it sounds like that's the one that applies in your case.


In professional services (law, engineering, accounting, etc) it is often related to becoming part owner or junior partner in the organization. You will see many companies of this type with a reference to associates in their name (eg Thompson and Associates Law). In this context "Associate" is an independent title rather than a modifier to a job title.

  • This is the best answer based on what we know - very likely a small engineering firm will be structured as a partnership.
    – Jay
    Jun 18 '19 at 15:39

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