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A switchboard operator is often the first line of communication between a company and its potential clients or customers. There are often switchboard operator positions at large companies, and the position is typically a good stepping stone to work your way into a company.

What is a Switchboard Operator?

When an individual calls a company’s main telephone number, it is likely that they are interacting with a switchboard operator. The position is an old profession that has been around since telephone services began.

The name switchboard operator was born from the concept of how calls were handled in the 1940s. All phone calls used to run through an exchange and had to be connected by an operator.

By the 1940s, the network was referred to as a central switchboard, and the individuals who served as the call intermediaries were called the switchboard operators. Their duty was to take the recipient request of the caller and then plug a cable into a socket on a switchboard to connect the callers.

Although the days of operating cables on a large switchboard are gone, the position may still be referred to as a switchboard operator, because phone systems in large companies may still have the physical or electronic appearance of a board with many options for connecting callers.

A switchboard operator’s personality should be pleasant and convey an attitude of helpfulness. These individuals are often the first line of communication to the general public, switchboard operators make the first impression on potential customers and partners on behalf of the company.

What is a Switchboard Operator Responsible For?

A switchboard operator is a customer service job. A caller typically needs help with connecting to an employee in the company, but the caller may not have a particular person they are trying to reach.

Some callers will have general questions that can be answered by a frontline operator, and sometimes callers may need an operator to guide them through the matrix of a large organization to find the appropriate department or employee to receive the call.

Switchboard operators may handle interoffice calls, and they may also be required to record company messages, such as main menu options, holiday closure announcements, and operational time changes.

On the job, a switchboard operator can expect to:

  • Answer high call volumes for hours
  • Access company directories
  • Maintain a friendly and helpful demeanor
  • Use a computer
  • Use software for call management
  • Adapt to technology and hardware changes
  • Ask probing questions
  • Keep a well-organized physical space
  • Problem-solve
  • Keep a large matrix of information memorized
  • Train other administrative employees
  • Complete daily administrative tasks, such as logging calls and filing reports

If a switchboard operator is located at the entrance of a company, they may be required to perform additional duties, such as greeting visitors. The company may require stringent dress code requirements and have additional standards for personal appearance.

Where Does a Switchboard Operator Work?

As of May 2020, the top employer categories for switchboard operators and answering services positions were:

  • Business support services, such as outsourcing companies
  • Healthcare systems, such as hospital systems, physician offices, or outpatient care centers
  • Customer service for traveler accommodations
  • Local government
  • Retail operators, such as electronics and appliance stores

Any organization that is large and complex will often need one or more switchboard operators. Positions are also available at universities, legal services companies, construction companies, insurance companies, and private businesses.

Most switchboard operator positions are available in the densely populated areas of the east coast, but California employs 17.5% of all switchboard operator and answering service positions.

Technological advances have moved some switchboard operator positions to remote locations. Internet-based calls can be handled from a secure line on a home computer and it can save companies money to have switchboard operators work from home.

What Degree is Required to Be a Switchboard Operator?

Switchboard operator is typically an entry-level position. It is not considered to be skilled work. However, a switchboard operator should have clear communication abilities and a pleasant speaking voice.

A high school diploma will typically suffice to secure a job as a switchboard operator. Some employers may ask for a minimum education of an Associate’s degree, and rarely they may require a Bachelor’s degree in business or a hospitality-related field of study.

In special circumstances, employers may require a switchboard operator to obtain certifications or learn to use special software or hardware.

Switchboard Operator Career Path

Getting a job as a switchboard operator can be a great way to become an expert on the operations and personnel of a company. This experience can be beneficial when moving into other positions in the company, such as a customer service associate or an administrative assistant.

Due to the changes in communication technology, switchboard operator positions are declining and becoming less valued. Switchboard operators and answering service positions are listed as one of the fastest declining jobs in the U.S. It is expected that there will be an employment change of -13.6% between 2020 and 2030.

The way people communicate is changing. Phone calls are becoming less prevalent due to the rise in text and email conversations. Online marketing, social media, and website presence has also changed the way companies interact with potential customers and clients.

Many companies have automated the tasks of a switchboard operator with software systems that can handle large call volumes without any human assistance. Some companies have outsourced switchboard operator jobs to countries around the world.

Despite the projected negative impact to switchboard operator positions, there are still employers who prefer to maintain a human touchpoint for phone-based operations. It is estimated that there will still be over 46,000 switchboard operator positions available in 2030.

How Much Can a Switchboard Operator Earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, switchboard operators and answering service positions earned an average rate of $16.34 per hour or $33,980 per year. The District of Columbia pays switchboard operators $46,880, on average, which is the highest pay rate in the U.S.

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