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Career profile Telephone Operator

Also known as 411 Directory Assistance Operator, Directory Assistance Operator, Information Specialist, Live Source Operator, Long Distance Operator (LD Operator), Telecommunications Operator, Telephone Operator, Toll Operator

Telephone Operator

Also known as 411 Directory Assistance Operator, Directory Assistance Operator, Information Specialist

Interests Profile
  • Conventional
  • Social
  • Realistic
Pay Range
$25,000 - $58,410 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Active Listening
  • Speaking
  • Service Orientation
Knowledge Areas
  • Customer and Personal Service
  • Telecommunications
  • Communications and Media
Core tasks
  • Listen to customer requests, referring to alphabetical or geographical directories to answer questions and provide telephone information.
  • Observe signal lights on switchboards, and dial or press buttons to make connections.
  • Suggest and check alternate spellings, locations, or listing formats to customers lacking details or complete information.
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What does a Telephone Operator do?

Telephone Operators provide information by accessing alphabetical, geographical, or other directories.

In addition, Telephone Operators

  • assist customers with special billing requests, such as charges to a third party and credits or refunds for incorrectly dialed numbers or bad connections,
  • may handle emergency calls and assist children or people with physical disabilities to make telephone calls.

What kind of tasks does a Telephone Operator perform regularly?

Telephone Operators are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Listen to customer requests, referring to alphabetical or geographical directories to answer questions and provide telephone information.
  • Suggest and check alternate spellings, locations, or listing formats to customers lacking details or complete information.
  • Offer special assistance to persons such as those who are unable to dial or who are in emergency situations.

The above responsibilities are specific to Telephone Operators. More generally, Telephone Operators are involved in several broader types of activities:

Working with Computers
Using computers and computer systems (including hardware and software) to program, write software, set up functions, enter data, or process information.
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others
Handling complaints, settling disputes, and resolving grievances and conflicts, or otherwise negotiating with others.
Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge
Keeping up-to-date technically and applying new knowledge to your job.

What is a Telephone Operator salary?

The median salary for a Telephone Operator is $37,710, and the average salary is $39,340. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Telephone Operator salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Telephone Operators earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Telephone Operators earn less than $25,000 per year, 25% earn less than $29,430, 75% earn less than $48,700, and 90% earn less than $58,410.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Telephone Operators is expected to change by -25.0%, and there should be roughly 400 open positions for Telephone Operators every year.

Median annual salary
Typical salary range
$25,000 - $58,410
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)

What personality traits are common among Telephone Operators?


Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as a Telephone Operator are usually higher in their Conventional, Social, and Realistic interests.

Telephone Operators typically have very strong Conventional interests. Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.

Also, Telephone Operators typically have moderate Social interests. Social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others.

Lastly, Telephone Operators typically have moderate Realistic interests. Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.

Telephone Operators typically have moderate Enterprising interests. Enterprising occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. These occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.


People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as a Telephone Operator tend to value Relationships, Support, and Independence.

Most importantly, Telephone Operators strongly value Relationships. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.

Second, Telephone Operators moderately value Support. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees.

Lastly, Telephone Operators somewhat value Independence. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Telephone Operators must consistently demonstrate qualities such as stress tolerance, integrity, and dependability.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Telephone Operators, ranked by importance:

Stress Tolerance
Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
Job requires being honest and ethical.
Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.

What education and training do Telephone Operators need?

Working as a Telephone Operator usually requires a high school diploma.

Telephone Operators need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Telephone Operators

  • 3.2% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 33.2% completed high school or secondary school
  • 34.6% completed some college coursework
  • 9.7% earned a Associate's degree
  • 15.0% earned a Bachelor's degree
  • 3.8% earned a Master's degree
  • 0.5% earned a doctorate or professional degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Telephone Operators

Telephone Operators may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as customer and personal service, telecommunications, or communications and media knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Telephone Operators might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Customer and Personal Service
Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
Knowledge of transmission, broadcasting, switching, control, and operation of telecommunications systems.
Communications and Media
Knowledge of media production, communication, and dissemination techniques and methods. This includes alternative ways to inform and entertain via written, oral, and visual media.
Knowledge of administrative and office procedures and systems such as word processing, managing files and records, stenography and transcription, designing forms, and workplace terminology.
Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.

Important Abilities needed by Telephone Operators

Telephone Operators must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Telephone Operators need abilities such as oral expression, oral comprehension, and speech clarity in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Telephone Operators, ranked by their relative importance.

Oral Expression
The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
Oral Comprehension
The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
Speech Clarity
The ability to speak clearly so others can understand you.
Speech Recognition
The ability to identify and understand the speech of another person.
Written Comprehension
The ability to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.

Critical Skills needed by Telephone Operators

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Telephone Operators frequently use skills like active listening, speaking, and service orientation to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Telephone Operators, ranked by their relative importance.

Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
Talking to others to convey information effectively.
Service Orientation
Actively looking for ways to help people.
Social Perceptiveness
Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
Reading Comprehension
Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.