Many young architects aspire to become partners in their firms, but in many cases, they must become architect associates first. Architect associates are typically considered junior partners at an architecture firm. They normally hold more responsibility than other staff architects, serve as representatives of the firm, and achieve greater financial rewards. The requirements to make associate vary by firm, depending on the firm's size and business model, but typically new associates need at minimum a bachelor's degree in architecture and a couple years of work experience.
The position of associate architect is usually considered a step below serving as a partner in the firm. In some firms, associates may achieve some level of ownership in the firm, enabling them to participate in profit sharing, or at least receive special bonuses or additional vacation time. Typically, the architect associates still receive a salary and other benefits like a typical employee. Becoming an associate, however, may open the door to the possibility of becoming a full-fledged partner later in the architect's career.
As an associate, the architect normally takes on additional responsibilities over a regular staff architect. He becomes a true representative of the firm, and may attend meetings on behalf of the partners with the power to make decisions concerning projects. Architect associates may also make presentations to potential or current clients. Being an associate doesn't typically carry the financial or legal risks of serving as a partner in a firm. This position, however, may be at a higher risk to be cut than others during times of financial difficulty due to the higher salary.
Architects may be promoted to associates relatively early in their careers. It is not uncommon to come across an architect in his late 20s who has already achieved this status. Most architecture firms require that interns take their licensing exams to become registered architects before they can be promoted to the level of architect associate. Becoming a member of professional architectural organizations, such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) or the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), may help a young architect to boost his resume, making him a more desirable candidate to become an associate. Many firms also prefer that the employee demonstrate his value to the firm by bringing in some amount of work, or new clients, before making associate. Firms typically promote new architect associates at the same time each year, following an annual review process. The structure is similar to the associate-partner model at law and accounting firms.