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Telephone Operators

At a Glance

  • Help place local and long distance phone calls
  • The number of jobs is declining
  • May work days, evenings, weekends, holidays, and split shifts
  • Receive training on the job

Career summary

Telephone operators help people make phone calls.

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Telephone operators (also known as central office operators) help place local and long distance phone calls for people. They use switchboards and computer systems.

Sometimes callers need to know an area code, a telephone number, or an address. Operators look up this information in computerized directories. They also quote charges for long distance calls.

Telephone operators also help customers with special billing requests or problems. Sometimes operators help sell phone company services or plans. They may also interrupt phone calls during emergencies. In addition, they perform clerical duties, including typing, sorting mail, and filing.

Related careers

This career is part of the Business Management and Administration cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to telephone operators.

Common work activities

Telephone operators perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, telephone operators:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Telephone operators frequently:

It is important for telephone operators to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for telephone operators to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Telephone operators need to:


Reason and problem solve

Work with people

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation


To work as a telephone operator, you typically need to:

Education after high school

No formal education beyond high school is required for this occupation.

On-the-job training

Most telephone operators learn their skills on the job. Employers generally combine practical training with some classroom work. Training often lasts up to one month. Training covers topics such as the national time zones and geography. You usually learn ways to calculate fees for various types of phone calls. You also learn how to use various phone systems. You may listen to tapes of yourself to help improve your diction and courtesy.

Helpful high school courses

You should take a general high school curriculum that meets the state's graduation requirements (external link). You will be required to take both math and science classes to graduate.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Most employers require that telephone operators have a high school diploma or equivalent. Employers prefer applicants who have strong reading, spelling, and math skills. They prefer people with clear speech and good hearing. Employers look for computer literacy and typing skills. Knowledge of a foreign language is useful. Most companies prefer employees who can be courteous to customers while working in a hectic setting.

Many positions for experienced workers are filled by word of mouth.


Computer skills in word processing and accounting, and knowledge of how to use computers as a resource for information are important.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Telephone operators (SOC 43-2021)

Pay Period
Washington Wages for this occupation are not available.
United States Hourly $11.14 $13.60 $17.91 $23.81 $29.14
Monthly $1,931 $2,357 $3,104 $4,126 $5,050
Yearly $23,160 $28,290 $37,240 $49,520 $60,610

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The operator's duties also affect wages.

Benefits vary by employer. Operators who work full time usually receive sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. 

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Telephone Operators (SOC 43-2021)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 21 14.3% 16.1% 3
    King County 10 10.0% 19.6% 2
United States 5,700 -28.1% 5.2% 500

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is significantly declining. Advances in technology are reducing the need for operators. Automated phone systems recognize human speech and do many of the tasks formerly performed by operators. Companies also set up call centers in foreign countries. Finally, callers can look up phone numbers and area codes on the Internet.

Even though the number of jobs is declining, openings will still occur as current operators retire or move into other occupations.

Other resources

US Telecom Association (external link)
601 New Jersey Avenue, NW Suite 600
Washington, DC 20001
Washington Business Week (external link)
PO Box 1170
Renton, WA 98057


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational clusters