What Is the Difference Between an Associate & a Senior Associate in Most Organizations?

by Vicki A. Benge; Updated September 26, 2017

In many organizational structures, a senior associate is a higher rank on the organizational chart than an associate is. Some organizations have additional positions between the two types of associates, while others make the senior associate a direct stepping stone from the associate level. In addition, some organizations don't use the term "senior associate" at all, instead substituting "junior associate" for the lower position and use the associate title for the higher-ranked position. Regardless of the organization, senior associates typically earn more and have a more secure position than lower level associates.

Legal Field

Many legal firms that employ a group of attorneys called the entry-level positions associates. Climbing the ladder in this type of organization can mean starting as an associate and working years to become a full partner. Along the way, you may be classified as a senior associate, then a junior partner before obtaining full partner status. In smaller firms, only associate and partner positions may be available with no designation as senior associate used. Typically, partners delegate work to associates.

Matt Shinners, in an article published on the American Bar Association's website, writes that associates are at-will employees, whereas partners have a contract and share in profits. To move up requires accumulating the expected billable hours each year and producing top-quality work. Shinners suggests that it helps to work for a specific partner and develop your reputation as someone who brings extra value to the firm. Volunteer to serve on legal panels within your community if possible and work consistently on bringing in new business.

Investment Banks

Investment banks often use the term associate to describe a particular rank in the organizational hierarchy. Typically, they classify entry-level positions as analysts or junior analysts, with the next rung up on the ladder being associate. In some organizations, they may refer to associates with more experience as third-year or senior associates.

One path to move up in investment banking is to focus on one product group, such as mergers and acquisitions and concentrate on transactions in this area. Alternatively, you may prefer to work directly with clients and have an interest in specialized fields such as real estate. Whatever path you choose, moving from associate to director often involves years of in-depth study of economic industries, experience in analyzing individual companies, attending conferences, creating presentations and writing original research reports.

Academics

Julia Scherba de Valenzuela, a professor at the University of New Mexico, writes that tenured college professors go up through the career ranks of assistant professors, associate professors then full professors. Professors at the highest level may be colloquially referred to as senior faculty. However, at some universities, titles are officially ranked lowest to highest as associate professor, professor and senior associate professor.

To advance from associate to senior associate requires organizing and directing original research projects, then presenting and publishing the results for peer review. Some universities require professors to publish regularly to advance. Thus, some professors often work long hours during the summer months to fulfill research obligations. This is in addition to teaching, which involves hours of work outside of the classroom, such as preparing for class, grading student papers, mentoring and advising.

About the Author

Vicki A Benge began writing professionally in 1984 as a newspaper reporter. A small-business owner since 1999, Benge has worked as a licensed insurance agent and has more than 20 years experience in income tax preparation for businesses and individuals. Her business and finance articles can be found on the websites of "The Arizona Republic," "Houston Chronicle," The Motley Fool, "San Francisco Chronicle," and Zacks, among others.