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What does a Telephone Operator do?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

A telephone operator typically performs tasks that cannot easily be automated. In addition, these people are usually trained to take over most automated tasks in the event of computer failures or other system issues. This would normally include directory assistance and connecting calls.

Collect calls normally require the assistance of a trained telephone operator. This is a type of call in which the person the call is being placed to must agree to accept any charges associated with it. These types of calls are usually long distance, but can also be placed locally. A local collect call would normally be used from a pay phone, in the event the caller did not have funds to pay for the phone use fee.

Some long distance calls are placed via a method called person-to-person, which usually requires an intermediary. This type of call is typically collect, and the caller has to state his name and the name of the person he is calling. The person receiving the call has the option to accept the call, even if he or she is not the intended recipient. If the intended recipient is not available, he or she can decline the call and the charges.

In some instances, callers may attempt to access directory assistance only to find the number they are looking for is not listed. This usually occurs with new listings that have not yet been indexed or recorded in databases. An operator will typically have access to new listings, even if they have not yet been computerized.

Sometimes, callers need an address for a location, as well as the telephone number. Most of the time, an operator can give both an address and telephone number for both new and established listings. This is probably one of the more common types of assistance that operators offer to the public.

Switchboard operators are telephone operators that do not work for a telephone company, but instead manage telephone systems for large companies. Their jobs are sometimes a mix between receptionist duties and call connections. Switchboard operators are becoming less and less common as most companies have their communications handled by automated systems.

Pay scale for telephone operators can vary greatly, depending on location and company. Education requirements for these jobs are minimal, and many companies offer on-the-job training to their new hires.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By LisaLou — On Jan 21, 2012

The telephone industry certainly has changed. I can see how an international telephone operator might have more job opportunities.

Large companies who have switchboard operators also heavily rely on the services of a telephone operator.

I worked once as a telephone operator/receptionist for a company. It was my job to greet people when they walked in the door, and route all the phone calls that came in.

When I wasn't on the phone, I also had some light office work that I was supposed to keep up on. Some days I was so busy answering all of the phone calls that I didn't have time to get anything else done.

By honeybees — On Jan 20, 2012

@Mykol - Speaking of things changing and showing your age, I remember growing up with a party line phone.

We even had one of old fashioned phones that hung on the wall. You would hold the receiver in one hand and speak into a microphone. It wasn't until I was in high school that we had a rotary dial phone.

In order to make any phone call on those old fashioned phones, you had to go through the operator. You would just ring her up and tell her whose number you wanted to call.

With those party lines you could pick up the phone at any time and listen in on anybody that was talking. The telephone operators knew all the gossip in the whole town.

I always thought that might have been an interesting job to have. Today we have cell phones and social networking accounts that make a telephone operators job like that seem almost obsolete.

By Mykol — On Jan 20, 2012

@andee - I used to make phone calls like that to a telephone operator. I would also go through an operator when I was making collect calls in college.

I am showing my age a little bit here, but when I lived in the college dorm, we only had one pay phone for each floor.

Nobody had cell phones and we never thought anything about sharing a phone like this. Knowing my parents wanted to hear from me on a regular basis, I would call home collect.

In order to do this I would need to go through the phone operator, give them the number I was calling and what my name was.

Even though these collect calls cost more than a regular phone call, my parents were always glad to hear from me. Unless the only reason I was calling was to ask for money, then they might not have been so eager to accept the call!

Things have sure changed a lot since then.

By andee — On Jan 19, 2012

It has been a long time since I dialed 0 on my phone to talk with a real live telephone operator that works for a telephone company.

I used to use this feature when I needed to get the phone number of a person or business outside my local area.

Now with the internet having all that information at my fingertips, I have not needed to do that for a long time.

Sometimes I wonder if there is even much of a demand for telephone operator jobs anymore. So many people are getting rid of their land line phones and just using cell phones that have the internet on them.

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