Job Description for a Telephonist


A telephonist, or telephone operator, is someone who handles calls for a company or client. Telephonists take incoming calls and either forward them to supervisors or provide callers with information. Occasionally, they will perform other clerical duties, such as filing statements, tracking invoices, typing reports, scheduling appointments and greeting customers. Most telephonists use a switchboard or computer to manage calls.


  • Telephonists work in a wide array of industries and must be able to handle many calls at once. They perform tasks such as taking messages, collecting past due payments, or help called with technical issues related to computers or cell phones. Some offer "directory assistance," where they assist a caller who is in search of a company's or another individual's address or phone number. Telephonists must possess a thorough knowledge of how to access information quickly, as well as the mission of the company or agency that they represent.


  • A telephonist needs to possess strong verbal communication skills, as she interacts with everyone from her superiors to callers on a daily basis. She must be able to think quickly on her feet, particularly if she is an operator who handles emergency situations. She should be professional, courteous, organized and in most instances, a capable problem solver. Telephonists also must be experts in operating the phone system, and accomplished typists.


  • Most companies require candidates to have only a high school diploma or the equivalent when hiring a telephonist. Depending on the size and scope of the company, a telephone operator may need some experience as a receptionist or have worked in customer service, but most can learn the necessary skills while on the job. As important as background, however, is a willingness to be trained and a strong work ethic.


  • Jobs for telephonists were expected to decrease by 10 percent during the 2008-18 decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2009. That is a considerably faster rate of decline than for all occupations. At the same time, the BLS reported that "job prospects should be favorable as occupational turnover is expected to remain high."


  • Telephonists earned anywhere from $8.22 to more than $15 per hour in March 2010, according to Much of those figures were based on the telephone operator's experience, industry and responsibilities. Meanwhile, the BLS reported that telephone operators earned a median annual salary between $24,000 and $35,000 in May 2008.

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