How to Get Unemployment Benefits: 3 Expert Tips If You’re Out of Work


For millions of Americans, unemployment benefits provide a lifeline that lets them keep the wolf from the door. But collecting those benefits isn’t always simple. Unemployment claims are often denied, and sometimes for avoidable reasons.

But first, let’s answer some basic questions you might have.

What Are Unemployment Benefits?

Americans who find themselves without a job may qualify for help from the government. Officially called the Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program, these benefits can provide you temporary income while you’re unemployed and looking for work.

Do I Qualify for Unemployment Benefits?

You must meet two essential criteria to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, according to the US Department of Labor:

1. You lost your job for a reason that wasn’t your fault.

2. You meet your state’s unemployment insurance rules, including requirements about the time you previously worked or the wages you earned.

How Do Unemployment Benefits Differ in Different States?

Your state determines what unemployment benefits you are eligible for, how much assistance you can receive, and how long you can receive these benefits. Check the bottom of this page to find how to start the application process in your state.

How Do I Get Unemployment Benefits?

Because the rules for unemployment insurance are strict, it’s important that you understand what’s required of you to apply for benefits.

We spoke with Spencer Cohn, national employee representative and author of Beat the Boss: Win in the Workplace. He specializes in helping workers collect rightful unemployment benefits. We asked him to share tips for collecting unemployment benefits, and he gave us a lot of them. Here are the highlights::

Tip #1: File for Unemployment Benefits

Cohn told us the most common reason people aren’t able to collect unemployment is that they don’t file for benefits. They often don’t file because they think they will go back to work soon. “That’s the biggest mistake because that’s another week that you don’t get unemployment,” he said.

Another reason they don’t file is they assume they aren’t entitled to benefits. “People think that if I quit my job, I can’t collect unemployment. That’s not true. If you have good cause and you tried to preserve your job before you quit, then you are entitled to your unemployment,” said Cohn. For example, you may refuse to work because you think your working conditions aren’t safe. If you document the problem with your supervisor and the employer refuses to correct the issue, you may still be able to quit and be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Tip #2: Read and Respond to Your Unemployment Notice of Determination

Once you file for unemployment compensation, an adjudicator will review your case. That person decides whether you are entitled to your unemployment benefits or not. You’ll then receive a Notice of Determination explaining whether you are eligible for benefits or your claim has been denied.

Sounds simple enough, right? We challenge you to read one of these notices. Apparently, bewilderment is not an uncommon response. But many people just throw the notice in the mail pile to figure out later. Big mistake.

The Notice of Determination typically states whether the employer is “chargeable” for your claim or “not chargeable.” If the adjudicator determines the employer was not chargeable (which essentially means you aren’t getting an unemployment check), you have to request an appeal within a very specific period of time—20 calendar days in Florida, for example. If you appeal, you’ll have to attend a hearing to determine your eligibility.

When you get your Notice of Determination, read it carefully. If you aren’t absolutely certain you understand it, get help. Don’t assume you aren’t eligible for benefits. If you don’t file an appeal by the deadline, warned Cohn, the state will deny your benefits, and you’ll have a difficult time reopening the claim.

Unemployment claims are denied for many reasons but the most common are the following:

1. The employee committed misconduct.

2. The employee quit a job without good cause.

But even if these are the case, the situation isn’t always clear-cut.

Say you were fired for violating a company policy. Your employer may not give you any strikes and may fire you on the spot. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Your state unemployment department’s appeals office may find there was good cause to separate you from employment but that it wasn’t sufficient to deny you unemployment benefits. What’s more, these policy violations typically have to occur at the workplace. If the violations aren’t directly related to work, they generally can’t be a reason to deny benefits.

Or perhaps you were fired for absenteeism. If you were late or couldn’t get to work for a compelling reason (traffic, illness, or a major snowstorm, for example), you could still collect unemployment provided you called and let your employer know about the problem and explained that it was beyond your control.

If your employer does write you up for a violation, “don’t refuse to sign it, or you can be fired for insubordination,” advised Cohn. “What you should do is sign it, explain on that document why you disagree, and then indicate that you are not finished or that your explanation is not complete.” Insist on a copy for your records.

Tip #3: Fight for Your Unemployment Benefits

If your unemployment claim does go to a hearing, your case will be assigned to an administrative law judge (often known as a Referee)—and it can get ugly. Your employer has plenty of incentive to challenge your claim. If you are successful, the employer’s unemployment insurance tax rate will go up, often significantly. And don’t forget that state unemployment funds are usually strained, which may result in state workers looking for reasons to deny claims.

Cohn recommended claimants get help preparing for their appeal. “The employer comes in with witnesses (who likely still work for the employer), an HR person, maybe even an attorney,” he cautioned. You’ll be outgunned.

The most surprising advice we heard from Cohn? File for unemployment while you’re still working if possible. Why? Because many workers employed through leasing or staffing companies may not realize they work for another company. And your eligibility for unemployment depends on a number of factors, including how long you worked, how much you were paid, and what state you live in. So it’s best to play it safe and file once you receive notice of separation.

“If they separate from employment, they have to notify the staffing company within 48 hours or they lose their unemployment benefits,” warned Cohen, who also added: “The deck is stacked against the employee, no question about it.”

If you’re concerned about your credit while you’re unemployed, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. If you’d like to monitor your credit more regularly,’s free Credit Report Card provides you with an easy-to-understand breakdown of the information in your credit report using letter grades, along with two free credit scores that are updated monthly.

If you’re ready to apply for benefits, check the table below for your state’s or region’s unemployment insurance website to get started.

State or Region Start Here for Unemployment Benefits
Alabama Alabama Department of Labor: Unemployment
Alaska Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Unemployment Insurance
Arizona Arizona Department of Economic Security: Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Arkansas Arkansas Department of Workforce Services: Unemployment Insurance
California State of California Employee Development Department: Filing a Claim
Colorado Colorado Department of Labor and Employment: Unemployment
Connecticut Connecticut Department of Labor: File for Unemployment Benefits
Delaware State of Delaware Division of Unemployment Insurance: Claimant Services
District of Columbia District of Columbia Department of Employment Services: Unemployment Insurance Service Center for Claimants
Florida Florida Department of Economic Opportunity: Apply for Benefits
Georgia Georgia Department of Labor: Get Unemployment Assistance
Hawaii State of Hawaii, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations: Unemployment Insurance
Idaho Idaho Department of Labor: Internet Unemployment System
Illinois Illinois Department of Employment Security: Unemployment Application
Indiana Indiana Department of Workforce Development: File for Unemployment
Iowa Iowa Workforce Development: File a Claim for Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Kansas Kansas Department of Labor: Kansas Unemployment Benefits
Kentucky Kentucky Office of Employment and Training: Unemployment Insurance Claims System
Louisiana Louisiana Workforce Commission: HiRE — Applying for Unemployment Insurance
Maine Maine Department of Labor: Unemployment Claims Filing
Maryland State of Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance: Maryland Initial Claim Form
Massachusetts File for Unemployment Benefits
Michigan Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency: New Claimant Filing
Minnesota Minnesota Unemployment Insurance: Applicant Login
Mississippi Mississippi Department of Employment Security: Getting Started
Missouri Missouri Division of Employment Security: New User Sign Up
Montana Montana Department of Labor & Industry: Unemployment Insurance for You
Nebraska NEworks: Unemployment Services
Nevada Unemployment Insurance Nevada: Claimant Registration
New Hampshire New Hampshire Employment Security: File for Benefits
New Jersey NJSuccess: File a Claim Home
New Mexico New Mexico Workforce Connection: Register
New York New York Department of Labor: JobZone Account Portal
North Carolina North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security
North Dakota Job Service North Dakota: File a Claim
Oklahoma Oklahoma Employment Security Commission: Oklahoma Internet Claim System
Oregon Oregon Employment Department: Online Claim System
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation: File an Initial Claim
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Department of Labor and Human Resources: Unemployment Insurance
Rhode Island Rhode Island Unemployment Insurance Internet Claims System
South Carolina South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce: Claimant Account Creation
South Dakota South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation: Register
Tennessee Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development: Apply for Benefits
Texas Texas Workforce Commission: Apply for Benefits
Utah Utah Department of Workforce Services: Initial Claims
Vermont Vermont Department of Labor: Establishing an Unemployment Claim
Virginia Virginia Employment Commission: File an Initial or Weekly/Continued Claim
Washington Washington State Employment Security Department: Signup
West Virginia WorkForce West Virginia: Unemployment Compensation Division Web Application
Wisconsin State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Apply for Unemployment Benefits Online
Wyoming Wyoming Workforce Services: Unemployment Insurance Services

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Looking for Work? Here’s The Wrong Way to Get Your Job Application Noticed


In a hyper-competitive job market, some people looking for work will do whatever it takes to stand out. There was the student who designed a Lego set in an attempt to land an ad agency internship. A graphic designer slapped his resume on a four-pack of home-brewed beer. And more than one desperate job seeker has donned a sandwich board in an attempt to find work.

These job hunting stunts might capture the media’s attention, but do they actually lead to job offers? In some cases, yes. Brennan Gleason, the man behind the “résum-ale,” as he dubbed it, quickly landed a job as a creative director for a digital marketing agency with the help of his one-of-a-kind C.V. But quirky job-hunting approaches don’t always yield quick results. It took Dan Conway, aka the Extreme Job Hunter, a year to find work, despite engaging in stunts like auctioning himself off on eBay and sending pizza to potential employers.

Outlandish job search techniques are more common, and may be more effective, when the applicant is in a creative field like marketing and design, perhaps because they’re a way for people to show off their skills to potential employers. Leah Bowman, the student behind the Lego resume, told Careertopia that, “For most companies, this type of application might even cross the line to inappropriate. For advertising agencies, however, I felt that showing my creativity and personality would be an asset.” But even designers and marketing pros should proceed with caution; one quarter of executives in this field surveyed by The Creative Group said gimmicky resumes were unprofessional.

Still, job hunters in all fields are under pressure to get noticed by hiring managers, who are often inundated with resumes for every job posted. The competition can inspire some desperate moves. While the instinct to make yourself stand out isn’t a bad one, some applicants take it too far, engaging in bizarre behavior than can torpedo their chances of getting the job.

“Candidates are realizing that an extraordinary cover letter and resume with strong references aren’t enough, that if you really want the gig, you have to stand out from the competition,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder, said. “Unfortunately, what many aren’t realizing is that the catch is making sure you do that in a professional, respectful way.”

The Creative Job Application Gone Wrong

Overzealous job seekers don’t always realize there’s a fine line between the charmingly creative job application strategy and the wildly inappropriate. Hiring managers surveyed by CareerBuilder shared stories of candidates who took an out-of-the-box approach to getting noticed, including:

  • The job seeker who bought a first-class upgrade in order to sit next to the hiring manager on a transatlantic flight.
  • A candidate who showed up for an interview wearing a Halloween costume.
  • The person who tried to bribe the hiring manager by sending him money.
  • An applicant who wore a tie emblazoned with the name of the company where he was interviewing.
  • The dressed-to-impress job seeker who wore a three-piece suit and arrived to his interview in a white limousine (the company dress code was casual and the job paid a middle wage).
  • The candidate who had his priest call the hiring manager to ask that the applicant get the job.

What is it about looking for work that inspires people to act in a way that seems designed to turn off hiring managers? Alison Green, an HR expert, blames the “charlatans of the job search advice world, telling people they need to ‘stand out’ and be ‘memorable.’” Candidates who want to rise above the pack might decide it’s a good idea to mail a cake and a framed picture of themselves to a hiring manager (as one candidate did to a reader of Green’s Ask a Manager blog), but such brazen moves can backfire.

“I was so incredibly creeped out by this gesture … I was afraid to eat the cake and couldn’t look at him and didn’t even call him for an interview,” the receiver of this unique “gift” recounted.

Those looking for work would do better to focus on substance rather than sizzle when trying to impress a would-be employer, say most career experts. A strong resume that outlines past accomplishments and clearly shows how your past experience relates to the position you want is a must, according to CareerBuilder. (And remember, only Elle Woods can get away with a scented resume on pink paper.) A robust social media presence that shows you’re an expert in your field can be an advantage when an employers searches for you after receiving your resume.

During the face-to-face portion of the hiring process, steer clear of common interview mistakes and take the time to ask a few questions of your own, since this shows you’re interested in the job. Finally, don’t forget to send a thank you note. Many applicants overlook this basic gesture, even though 59% of hiring managers say a thank you note or email after an interview can boost a person’s chances of being receiving a job offer. And if you’re tempted to send a potential employer a shoe to “get your foot in the door,” remember this: Though gimmicky tactics might get a hiring manager’s attention, it’s ultimately your skills and experience that will land you the job.

[Editor’s note: Employers often check your credit reports before finalizing the hiring process. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep track of what’s happening with your credit. You certainly wouldn’t want errors on your reports to keep you from getting your dream job. You can get your free annual credit reports at, and you can check your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, at]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.  


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You’re More Likely to Land Your Dream Job If You Do This One Simple Thing


A new survey has shed light on a major inefficiency in the way most people look for a job: Getting referrals.

It turns out that 71% of hiring managers say employee referrals are their best source for finding job candidates, but only 7% of job seekers say asking for referrals is part of their strategy for getting a new job.

The survey, conducted by, a career content and job site, and Future Workplace, a research firm, also found that “passive” job seekers, or those who are employed but open to new opportunities, have a better chance of being hired over “active” job seekers, or those who are unemployed and searching for work.

Hiring managers really like passive job seekers according to the survey, with 80% of HR professionals saying they become the most effective employees. (The survey is based on a national sample of 4,347 job seekers, as well as 129 human resource professionals.)

So what does all of this mean for you if you’re interested in finding a new position?

“A strong application coupled with quality referrals will provide job seekers with an advantage in the hiring process,” Rich Milgram, CEO of said in a statement. “You should constantly be exploring new ways to nurture and expand your referral network, and it may be easier than you think. For example, attend industry conferences and events, grab lunch with a former colleague or make new connections on social platforms — a few simple actions may help you land your dream job.”

Some of those actions, based on highlights from the survey, include.

1. If You’re Still in School, Review Your Major

Fourteen percent of seekers surveyed were liberal arts majors, yet only 2% of companies are actively recruiting those majors. And while 30% of companies are actively recruiting engineering and computer information systems majors, just 15% of job seekers are studying in those fields. About a third of job seekers would, or have, changed their college major for better job prospects.

2. Focus on Cultural Fit Over GPA

While job seekers (23%) and employers (24%) agreed that internship experience carries the most weight for students when seeking jobs, employers don’t view GPA as carrying a lot of weight (6%) as much as job seekers (12%). Companies put more emphasis on cultural fit (24%) than job seekers do (15%) when recruiting.

3. Be Flexible 

Effective communication skills are at the top of the skills list for both employers and employees. After communication skills, employers look for employees with the ability to adapt to change and make sense of ambiguity, followed by being results driven and goal-oriented. After communication skills, employees report leadership ability, in-person collaboration and teamwork skills as their subsequent strengths.

4. Don’t Worry About These Weaknesses

The top three weaknesses reported by employees were virtual collaboration and teamwork skills (48%), technical skills (46%), and being culturally aware and inclusive (43%). HR professionals reported virtual collaboration and teamwork skills (43%), and being culturally aware and inclusive (also 43%) as the second and third least-important skills when hiring.

5. Look Outside. It’s Easier 

Job seekers are optimistic about the job market and may perceive it as easier to seek a new job outside their company than to make a lateral move. More than 40% of job seekers reported that it was difficult or very difficult to make a lateral move at their most recent organization, while less than one quarter of respondents reported being not optimistic about the broader job market.

Remember, a lot of prospective employers will want to check your credit before completing the hiring process. As such, it’s important to monitor what’s on your credit report. You can pull your credit reports for free each year at and view your free credit report summary, updated each month, on

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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