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How to apply for unemployment benefits (it’s less intimidating than you might think)

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

I remember that the first time I applied for unemployment as a single adult, I was so nervous about the process. This is because I once applied for unemployment benefits in college and it was a manual process where you literally had to send paperwork in the mail or call to make a request via telephone. Thank goodness times have changed where you can go online and file everything electronically. This by no means is meant to be a comprehensive guide for unemployment – a better resource is to visit – but I’ve always taken comfort in hearing insights from a friend so I know what to expect in a new situation.

And guess what? I’m happy to serve as that friend for you right now. Here’s a quick rundown of how unemployment works, how to file and how to get detailed information from your state.

  • According to the site (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor), unemployment programs are a shared state and federal program. You apply for benefits through your state and generally are eligible if you are no longer working through no fault of your own. Layoff is the primary reason that many file for unemployment, but there are some exceptions.

  • In general, you should file for unemployment benefits as soon as you can. In my opinion, it’s best to file the same day you get laid off if you can (even if it’s late at night). This is because there generally is a waiting period before the unemployment benefits kick in. This waiting period can vary by state. For example, when I lived in Texas, it was about 2 weeks, whereas in my current state of Colorado, the unemployment site says the waiting period can be 4-6 weeks.

  • After you apply for unemployment benefits, you will have to go back to the unemployment site to request a payment. This is normally done on a regular interval. To qualify, you will have to document that you still are unemployed and actively seeking work.

  • It’s important to note that “actively seeking work” is a key component of the unemployment benefit system. Many states require that you show documentation of your job search activities, and some states have a minimum number of job searches that you must perform. This may sound strict, but I found that it was a great motivator to me keep looking for work when everything inside of me was frustrated, tired and wanting to do anything in the world other than look for a job.

Please be sure to look at the specific unemployment benefit rules for your state. I’ve mentioned the site a few times because it’s a great one-stop-shop to learn about unemployment benefits and to connect to your state unemployment agency.

I hope this overview helps make the process less intimidating. I knew nothing about the unemployment system when I first applied, but I learned to navigate it and feel confident that you can too. It’s a great resource to have; please don’t let fear, intimidation or procrastination stand in the way of you applying for this benefit.

Always thinking of you,


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