When vice, deputy, associate, or assistant is collocated with a job title, such as vice manager, deputy manager, associate manager, assistant manager, I wonder how to rank or differentiate their levels. Or, they sometimes can be the same, can't they?
Vice refers to the one who is next in command! And its usage is usually confined to a small number of people, whereas Deputy also refers the same but it is confined to considerably large number of people.
For example: There would be just one or two vice presidents under a president! On the contrary, there can be many deputy engineers under a manager.
Associate refers to someone who is usually not as high in the cadre as Deputy/Vice but of someone who is of equal level in being a sub ordinate & Assistant being the least in the cadre of the above mentioned!
So if you are looking to differentiate, it would be something like this,
Vice = Deputy > Associate > Assistant
'Deputy' literally means someone who can act in the stead of his/her superior. Hence, the verb to 'deputize' for somebody, to take their place. A sheriff's deputy is a good example.
Similarly, 'vice' comes from the Latin meaning 'in place of'. We have the familiar example of the President of the United States of America, and his/her Vice President who, while being subordinate, may take on the role of President in certain circumstances.
I would rank both 'deputy' and 'vice' ahead of 'associate' and 'assistant'. 'Associate' is commonly used to refer to general employees of not especially high rank, such as associates in a law firm. 'Assistant' is a term which can be used to mean something like 'helper' or 'aide' - it may even be pejorative depending on context - but in some cases can be used to indicate a rank similar to 'deputy', such as Assistant District Attorney, or Assistant Coach.
In general, these are quite fluid terms depending on the setting in which they are used.
"Vice-," "deputy" and "assistant" are generally used to refer to the "second-in-command" or the one who may act as a representative for the holder of the original job title. Usually, these are also job titles held by a single person. "Associate," on the other hand is used to mean something similar to the others (in terms of being a subordinate), but they may be one of a number of such persons.
I'm not looking this up, but…
Vice goes only with president and signifies a position that is both executive and subordinate.
Deputy specifically implies that the person in charge hired the underling so as to delegate not only tasks, but authority over others as well.
Associate is often used in marketing positions, so clients may be impressed that they are talking to a "manager." If your manager is only an associate manager, then you are definitely low on the chain.
Assistant signifies delegation like deputy, but the person works more closely to perform tasks for the superior. The assistant gives orders less often than the deputy and writes more reports.
This depends on the ranking system of the institution in question, geographical location also plays a big part, see academic ranks below: