Becoming an Associate


I'm slightly embarrassed to say it but I don't have a clear understanding of what it means to become an associate.  I've never worked for a firm that offers this title.

I'm sure it differs from firm to firm, but I imagine it can be everything from a title only, to having to buy a stake (in cash), to being offered a stake (in lieu of pay), to something else I haven't thought of.

Just a thought as I enter my 5th year at this firm and consider my options. Any experiences you feel like sharing, are appreciated.

Jan 17, 18 9:20 pm

I meant to also ask - what would one expect the added responsibilities to be?  


Jan 17, 18 9:21 pm
Non Sequitur
Associate in my office is a merited title that implies client and staff management duties in return for a cut company profits above salary. It’s not an automatic title just because of licensing or signority.
Jan 17, 18 10:08 pm

It is a title that I think was probably borrowed from law where it is used a lot. It means somewhere between intern and partner. Meaning associates can represent the company and can perform all the tasks required but aren't partners. Company (wo)man. Also a term to describe someone who shouldn't be called intern but isn't an architect so can't use that title either. Looks better in correspondence to have a title of associate than intern and if you have to correspond, you won't get anywhere with the title of intern. I worked in a branch office where you could earn the title of associate after about 5+ years of experience but that wasn't the case in the main, much larger office where you needed probably 12-15 years to get it. 

Jan 17, 18 10:28 pm

This is for the most part what I have seen most prevalent.


Sorry Rick, but based on what? I was under the impression that you've never worked in a firm before.


bowling_ball, I didn't work as a traditional employee of a firm but it doesn't mean I haven't talked to firms, their principals, and people who worked for firms. Add to that, there are also publication. My point is, firms with people over 5 or 10 individuals that works for the firm will tend to have Principal, Associate and the rest being just other staff. These other staff will have fresh out of college new hires, inexperienced staff members, and people whose job position nature does not have a promotion track like maybe the IT guy if the firm has one on staff who is an individual who doesn't have an architecture background. Most firms I have looked at, in the western states of the U.S., often has a Principal/Partner level, then one or more ranks of associates level, and the rest being general/other staff. When you are offered associate level ranking, they are usually looking to keep you for the longer run, potentially leading to becoming a principal sometime in the future. It is a way firms use to try to retain staff members for longer time period.

I've worked *with* an architectural firm before. I've studied their organizational structure. They aren't that unique in that respect to other firms in the pacific northwest. I'm not talking about sole-proprietor owned firm that may have a staff of five. I'm talking about FIRMS. Mid-size (regional) to large scale national/international firms. 


which principle of a firm would want to talk to you? =P


We're not all dicks in person like we are on the forum.


are you really that nice in person?


I'm sure we are nicer in person than how we may act on a forum under anonymous accounts. I've talked to Principals of firms as well as people who work in firms. A lot of the time, we are fairly cool and respectful to each other because we are really all colleagues in the architectural field. When I talk to people in person or even over the phone in the field (not always practical to visit people in person), we're generally cool and respectful to each other.

In short, I strive to not have to be a total jackass all the time. When we are dealing with each other on name basis, in person, or over the phone, there's a time to be professional and extend professional courtesy mutually and be mature adults not like adolescent twits but when we learn to not take our online 'jabs' and 'pokes' too seriously, I think we all in all do get along to some degree because we have enough to worry about then being total pecker woods around the clock... online, in person, over the phone, etc.  

Very much depends on the firm. At some places it could be as little as 3-5 years experience others it's 10+. Could be enormous corporate or tiny less than 10 person operation. Corporate arch firms seem to be shifting toward a more banker/lawyer type system of titles, which is where associate comes from. Doesn't seem to be much consistency in what it represents across these architecture firms.

The better question to ask yourself is not what the title is or might mean to outsiders but if this firm/title is offering you growth, opportunity, pay etc on par with what you feel is commesurate for your responsibilities and experience level.
Jan 17, 18 11:18 pm

The last paragraph is on the mark.


There isn't a universally set policy on what is an "Associate" when it comes to organizational position ranking. The common trend is it is a rank above entry level technical staff and Principal (ie. partner/co-owner). It usually correlates with an increased level of responsibility and pay level to that of technical staff. This isn't always the case. Therefore, the best answer will come from the firm principals. 

For the most part, the posts above are correct but keep in mind you won't have a single right answer.

archinine, associate has been a term used in firms in the U.S. for quite some time. I know of some firms where it was the case back in the 1950s/60s so it isn't new.

Jan 18, 18 1:51 am

I associate 'associate' with Godfather/Sopranos type of entrepreneurs  who try to pretend they're legit businessmen.

Jan 18, 18 11:21 am

From where I'm standing, it feels like every day I'm pretending to be a legit businessman.


My experiences:

Firm 1:  It meant everybody unlicensed who did not have some other title.  In other words the "Specification Specialist" and the "Comptroller" and the "Junior Partners" and the "Project Architects" were not Associates.  The college student doing a co-op semester, the IT guy, front desk receptionist/admin person, and all interns, recent grads, and unlicensed middle-manager aspiring-architects were Associates.

Firm 2: It meant professional staff, licensed or not, who had been there at least 3 to 5 years and were considered to be on a partner track.  Note that this is a large firm with 50+ Associates and 20+ partners, and that there are several levels of Associates, so being just an Associate could still be decades away from partnership, and many of their Associates never do become partners. 

Firm 3: Didn't use the title at all.

Firm 4: was a 7-person firm with "and Associates" in its firm name.  All staff except the Owner were titled Associate on their business cards, from entry-level to senior architect sidekick.

Firm 5: Didn't use the title at all.

Firm 6: It was used for senior-level managers who were not licensed.  Licensed senior managers were called "Senior Project Manager", but the firm's insurer banned the use of "manager" in the title of anyone without professional a professional license, so the senior staff member who functioned as senior PM of interior design, for example, was "Senior Associate of Interior Design".

Firm 7: Didn't use the title at all.

Firm 8: Used to use the title to refer to senior staff - usually 15+ years of experience - who were not partners.  There were both Associates and Senior Associates.  More recently this firm has moved away from retaining any staff at that level who are not partners, so nobody is currently titled Associate.

Firm 9: Uses the title for senior-level non-design staff - i.e. most of their marketing staff are titled Associate.

Firm 10 (my own firm): Does not use the title at all.

Jan 18, 18 11:40 am

This is about what I'd been imagining. It really means something different to everyone. Thanks for taking the time to write that out, I appreciate it.

There is some bogus statement of purpose of what becoming an associate means for my office but it is rarely followed. It is really just a promotion in title with some extra little bonuses and maybe a little higher prestige with people outside the firm. The reality is that if you've been here 3-5 years and you're slightly better than simply competent and don't have any social awkwardness around the office, you're probably going to be made an associate. It amounts to a popularity contest. 

bowling_ball, if you're wondering what becoming an associate means in your firm, I wouldn't ask us here ... ask an associate at your firm what it means. Or if you're considering moving to another firm, ask an associate there. With such a wide range of associates in the profession, it all depends on the particular firm's policy or politics. 

Jan 18, 18 11:48 am

Here's the thing - my current firm doesn't the title at all, but they've been throwing around the idea as some sort of carrot for those of us near the top, but not practice managers. I know that if I bring up the question, they're not going to have an answer because they don't know themselves just yet (we have been a stable group of about 20 for the past 5 or 6 years and the owners are relatively young).


Global firm: for us it's just one of the title steps. It means essentially a competent professional (either licensed or not, and I think we have a minimum of 5 years experience) but who is not a manager. An associate might direct the work of design staff, and in fact be a very experienced project architect (we have people with 20+ years as senior associates) but they would probably not be responsible for staffing, performance reviews, contracts, invoicing, and the like. They likely would provide input into all those things, but they wouldn't have primary responsibility. Basically a middle of the road title. Competent and good for day to day and some planning, but not running the show. 

Jan 18, 18 2:01 pm


Spoke to one of the principals, discussed this topic. Two of my managers have decided to buy in as junior partners within the year. I have a lot on my plate and they'd like me turn join at some point, but as I'm going through a messy breakup at home, I don't have the energy, will, or financial stability to make that leap right away. However I'd like to be in that position by the time I'm 40, in less than 2 years.

I did, however, negotiate a 10% raise, which was sealed with a 'fuck you' and a handshake from the boss. 

To be continued...

Jan 25, 18 11:48 pm

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