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Telephone Operator: Employment Info & Requirements

Learn what telephone operators do. See what kind of career preparation is required. Read on for job prospects to decide if this field is the right one for you.

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Career Definition for Telephone Operators

Telephone operators work for the telephone company, in what's often considered an entry-level job. They work in a central call center and help customers to complete person to person or emergency phone calls where breaking into the line is warranted. Telephone operators perform directory assistance, providing customers with telephone numbers and offering to complete the call for them. A telephone operator's time on the system and the number of calls handled are monitored and telephone operators are held to certain performance standards.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some telephone operators hold union jobs, through either the Communications Workers of America or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Telephone operators occasionally work in the hotel or other industries. These telephone operators handle guest services like taking messages, wake up calls, pages, emergency calls, and connecting callers to the appropriate party. Telephone operators may work second or third shift or a rotating schedule of hours.

Education High school diploma, employer-provided training
Required Skills Customer service skills, ability to think quickly, pleasant speaking skills
Median Salary (2015)* $35,880
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 42% decline

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Telephone operators don't usually complete formal schooling beyond a high school diploma or its equivalent. Telephone operators attend employer-provided training, either in a classroom setting or with a mentor. A telephone operator studies computers, customer service, company policies, and guidelines for customer interactions and typing.

Skills Required

Telephone operators possess excellent customer service skills and the ability to think quickly and clearly, especially when faced with angry customers. Telephone operators also need to be able to speak clearly and pleasantly at all times.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that telephone operators face a substantial 42% drop in job growth from 2014-2024, primarily due to voice recognition systems, outsourcing to cheaper overseas labor markets and consolidation of phone company operations into fewer offices. As of May 2015, the BLS reports the median annual salary for telephone operators to be $35,880.

Alternate Career Options

Some similar occupations include:

Hotel Clerk

Hotel clerks, who may also work in motels or resorts, provide customer service to guests. They book or revise reservations, take payment, answer questions for guests, and make sure their needs are met as far as things like extra towels. Hotel clerks may work closely with other hotel employees, like managers, maintenance, and housekeeping staff. Education requirements can vary for this job and commonly range from a high school diploma to an associate's degree. On-the-job training is common.

The BLS predicts that the number of jobs for hotel clerks is expected to remain roughly the same from 2014-2024, with an increase of about 9%. The median pay for this occupation was $21,040 in 2015, per the BLS.

Bill and Account Collector

Bill and account collectors use a variety of techniques (within state and federal laws) to locate and contact people who owe money on overdue bills. In some cases, they'll negotiate repayment of the debt, setting up terms that are acceptable to the customer and the business that's owed the debt. Bill and account collectors may follow up on negotiated debts and refer debtors to credit counseling. They may work in-house for a creditor or for a third-party debt collection company.

Employers usually require education ranging from a high school diploma to some college education. On-the-job training is common. This occupation is expected to see a 6% decline from 2014-2024, per the BLS. The BLS also reported that bill and account collectors earned median pay of $34,440 in 2015.

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