Four Steps for Navigating Unemployment

A game plan for getting back on your feet.


Martin Brablec

Losing your job can be one of the most stressful events you’ll ever face; in fact, 46% of newly-hired employees are laid off or fired within the first 18 months of employment. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, more Americans have been laid off than ever — with no easy route back into the job market.

Global pandemic aside, many Americans experience unemployment at some point in their lives. While it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, the loss of income and stability can be incredibly stressful. The good news? Having a game plan to get back on your feet can go a long way to helping reduce the stress of unemployment.

If you find yourself unemployed, refer to this checklist to guide you to your next job — and help you maintain financial stability.

Illustration by Kyle Duong

1. Stick to a Schedule

Sudden unemployment can leave you feeling uncertain, with a lot of unstructured time on your hands. Intentionally scheduling your time will help provide a predictable routine while you take a breath and get back on your feet. 

Set aside blocks for both productive time and self-care. Productive activities may include applying for jobs, networking, and applying for  unemployment benefits or non-career-related tasks, such as chores and errands. While unemployed, scheduling self-care and leisure activities is also crucial; you don’t want to forget to take care of your mental and social well-being. Plan a day outdoors; whether you’re hiking a trail or simply relaxing in the sun, fresh air has been shown to boost mental health. Some other low-cost leisure activities for improving mental health include calling old friends, journaling, and visiting family.

Maximize control over your day and break down scheduled blocks of time into individual tasks. For example, instead of setting aside four hours for a general task such as applying to jobs, set aside one hour for browsing job boards like LinkedIn, two hours for filling out applications, and an additional hour for sending follow-up emails.

Illustration by Kyle Duong

2. Organize Your Job Search

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of staying organized during your job search.

Before applying to open positions, determine whether your career goals have changed since losing your job. Know your “must haves” like minimum salary, remote or in-person work, and desired responsibilities. These parameters will help narrow your job search and make the application process more manageable. 

Once you know your goals, begin applying to jobs. Keep track of each position that you apply for or that interests you. Consider Google Sheets or old-fashioned pen and paper to document and organize each position’s details. Set aside columns for the company name, the position name, relevant contact information, action items, and three additional columns to mark potential follow-up dates. Visually organizing your job search will maximize your productive time.

3. Apply for Unemployment Benefits

The Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program provides temporary financial assistance to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and who meet the requirements of State law. Unemployment Insurance allows eligible participants to receive a portion of their wages while looking for work. The benefit amount you receive varies by state and your individual circumstances.

Typically, eligibility requirements include the following criteria:  

Visit or check with your state’s Department of Labor to learn more about how to register to receive unemployment benefits.

Illustration by Kyle Duong

4. Take Temporary Work

Temporary contract work — such as driving for a ride-share or dog walking — can provide a lifeline to help keep your finances above water. If you have a marketable skill from your previous job or a hobby, such as maintenance, tutoring, or yard work, gig work is another option. Typically, you can find this work using online forums or community job boards. 

You might also find work on a part-time or project basis as a freelancer. Online freelance marketplaces connect employers with talent in a wide range of fields and industries. After dipping their toes in the freelance market, some people even find they prefer the freedom the lifestyle brings. Who knows? Freelance work may become your next career move.

The Big Picture

Losing your job can be a nerve-wracking experience. When it happens, know there is a path back to employment and financial security. Stay sharp, stay organized, take time for self-care, apply for unemployment benefits, and seek temporary work if necessary. These steps will make a significant positive impact on your physical, emotional, and financial well-being.