Telephone Operators


Employment Prospects


There are approximately 69,900 switchboard operators, 4,740 telephone operators, and 3,240 other communications equipment operators employed in the United States. Operators are still needed in telephone companies, but most find jobs handling the phone lines of hotels, retail stores, and other businesses with large numbers of employees. The customer service departments of companies and stores employ telephone operators to handle transactions, make courtesy calls, and answer customers' questions.

Starting Out

Individuals may enter this occupation by applying directly to telephone companies and long-distance carriers. In some cities, telephone offices maintain an employment office, while elsewhere employment interviews are conducted by a chief operator or personnel manager. Other job openings may be discovered through state or private employment agencies, employment agencies, or career services offices in schools.

New telephone company employees are usually given a combination of classroom work and on-the-job practice. In the various telephone companies, classroom instruction usually lasts up to three weeks. The nation's time zones and geography are covered so that operators can understand how to calculate rates and know where major cities are located. Recordings are used to familiarize trainees with the various signals and tones of the phone system as well as give them the chance to hear their own phone voices and improve their diction and courtesy. Close supervision continues after training is completed.

Telephone operators continue to receive on-the-job training throughout their careers as phone offices install more modern and automated equipment and as the methods of working with the equipment continue to change. Service assistants are responsible for instructing the new operators in various other types of special operating services.

Advancement Prospects

Telephone operators may have opportunities for advancement to positions as service assistant, and later to group or assistant chief operator. Chief operators plan and direct the activities of a central office, as well as personnel functions and the performance of the employees. Service assistants may sometimes advance to become private branch exchange (PBX) service advisers, who go to individual businesses, assess their phone needs, and oversee equipment installation and employee training. Some telephone operators take other positions within a telephone company, such as a clerical position, and advance within that position.

Opportunities for advancement usually depend on the employee's personal initiative, ability, experience, length of employment, and job performance, as well as the size of the place of employment and the number of supervisors needed. Most telephone company operators are members of a union, and the union specifies the time and steps to advance from one position to another. However, many operators can become qualified for a higher level position but then need to wait for years for an available opening. Some telephone operators become PBX or switchboard operators in corporations and large businesses.

Tips for Entry

Develop good communication and customer service skills to increase your chances of landing a job. 

Talk to telephone operators about their careers. Ask them for advice on landing a job. 

Contact telecom companies directly to inquire about employment opportunities.