Unexpectedly Jobless? What To Do When Unemployed and in Need of Income ASAP

Maybe you were unexpectedly laid off, or the job offer you were counting on didn’t come through. Whatever your circumstance, you’re left wondering what to do while unemployed.

First, there’s one thing you should not do while unemployed: panic.

That’s easier said than done, but if you read through this article, you’ll realize being unemployed isn’t totally a bad thing. Not if you use your time wisely. 

So here’s a list of 9 things to do while unemployed that will help you stay afloat financially and discover what’s next.


1. Apply for unemployment

This might seem obvious, but the first thing you should do when unemployed unexpectedly is apply for unemployment. This is a service for people like you—people who need a bit of financial assistance until they find whatever’s next in their career path. 

How you apply for unemployment will depend on where you live and your background. Each state has its own rules and regulations regarding who is eligible and what’s needed to receive assistance. 

The Department of Labor has an excellent resource that allows you to find the unemployment rules for your state. 

Taking care of this first will ensure you have a cushion so you can prepare for your next career move.


2. Adjust your budget and spending

Hopefully, your unemployment status will be very temporary. But even if it only lasts a month, you should still take measures to ensure you don’t overspend while on the job hunt, especially while everything is so expensive.  

Look at the budget you’ve been using and identify any areas where you might be able to cut back on spending. Perhaps you’ll vow to cook all your meals at home while unemployed or cancel a few streaming subscriptions to save cash. 

If you don’t have a budget, this is the perfect time to create one. You can use our budgeting template to start. Once you’re done, check out our other resources on budgeting as a college student for more tips on saving cash while applying for new jobs or building alternative income streams.

Freebie: Build your budget with our template - click here [image links to google spreadsheet template]


3. Reflect on what you want for your future

Once you’ve gotten a handle on your spending and potentially applied for financial assistance, you should hopefully have some breathing room to reflect on your situation. 

The goal here is not to spiral into the negative feelings associated with losing your job. While it’s important to feel and process those emotions, you’ll want a calm, objective mind for this exercise. 

Take out a pen and paper (if it’s useful), and answer these questions: 

  • What are the main factors for my unemployment? 
    • Which of those factors were in my control? 
    • What can I do to avoid the same situation in the future?


  • What are the things I liked about my last job? 
    • What tasks did I enjoy? 
    • What important lessons did I learn? 
    • What did I look forward to about work? 
    • What aspects of my working relationships did I enjoy? 


  • What are the things I didn’t like about my last job? 
    • What frustrated me about my duties? 
    • What was missing from my last job? 
    • What did I dread about my job? 


  • Do I want to continue on the same career path? 
    • If so, what kind of job would be my dream next role? 
    • If not, what other opportunities should I consider? 
    • How can I use my current skills and background to get the next job that I want? 
    • What do I need to do before I can make my next move? 

These questions can help you better understand where you are and what you want in life. By the time you’re done answering them, you may already know what actions to take while unemployed.


4. Get the word out about your situation

It’s natural to feel a bit wounded after losing your job, even if it was completely out of your control. But keeping quiet about your situation could prolong the amount of time you’re unemployed. 

Once you’ve had some time to recover from the initial shock and disappointment, it’s time to dust yourself off and let people know you’re actively looking for work. 

You don’t have to spell out all the details of your former employment to everyone you meet. But it’s a good idea to let your friends, family, and acquaintances know you’re no longer working where you were and that you’re on the hunt for something new. (And be specific about what you’re looking for!) 

Your next job could very well come from someone you already know, who can introduce you to the right person at the right company. In addition to being open with your close relations about your situation, contact former employers, colleagues, classmates, and mentors directly, as they will most likely know of opportunities that would suit you.


5. Level-up your resume and portfolio

You likely knew this was coming, but it’s a no-brainer—when you’re unemployed and have a bit more time on your hands, it’s a good idea to give your resume and portfolio a refresh. 

If it’s been a while since you updated your resume, consider adding a new headshot, updating your career experiences, and perhaps giving it a bit of a visual makeover using an online tool like Canva. 

If you’re considering changing careers, try making a few different versions of your resume that you can send to a variety of job opportunities. Highlight different skills and experiences depending on the jobs you apply for so hiring managers know you’re the right person to bring on board. 

We have lots of advice to help you give your resume (and LinkedIn profile) some much-needed love. Check out these articles for more tips.


6. Develop your personal brand

Your resume summarizes your work experience and skills, but it’s not the same as having a personal brand. The latter goes well beyond just your experience—to reflect more about who you are, where your passions and goals lie, and your personality. 

A personal brand can make it easier to land a job, as it will give employers a more rounded picture of who you are and demonstrate your drive and passion. And if you ever decide to start your own business or become a freelancer (more on that later in this article), your personal brand will be a major advantage and help you get started faster. 

We have plenty of resources to help you build a personal brand:


7. Pick up new skills and experiences

One of the best parts of being unemployed (yes, there are silver linings!) is that you’ll have more free time to pursue activities and experiences you had to put on the back burner while working full-time. 

You can try your hand at a new hobby or perhaps do some (affordable) travel to destinations you’ve been wanting to visit. But in addition to the “just for fun” stuff, consider dedicating some of your new-found free time to building up skills and experiences that will make you an even more appealing job candidate. 

For example, you could try volunteering for a few hours a week—this looks great on a resume, especially if the organization you choose is related to what you want to do for work. 

Or you could take an online course or a class at your local community college to develop new certifications that will help you get a better job sooner rather than later. Check out our guide on becoming a lifelong learner for good tips on expanding your knowledge and skillset during this period of unemployment.


8. Earn a bit of side income to tide you over

If the job hunt is taking longer than anticipated, you may want to consider other ways to bring in additional income to keep yourself afloat (or perhaps launch a new career altogether). 

If you want some quick cash, consider holding a garage sale, becoming a rideshare driver, or taking on temp work. Longer-term income streams might involve building your own business or starting work as a freelancer. 

Either way, we have resources to help:


9. Get out there and network like crazy

You’ve found a way to get a bit of extra income, reflected on what you want your next career move to be, and let everyone know that you’re looking for work.

Now, the only thing left to do is start expanding your network. Making new connections with people in your desired field is the best way to find your next role, whatever that may be. 

You may be intimidated by networking—most people are. But if you can overcome your initial trepidation, you may find that networking can be quite enjoyable. 

Look for local and relevant networking opportunities through websites like Meetup.com or Eventbrite. You can also do more digital networking by joining groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Slack. Either way, your goal should be the same: Put your best foot forward, show people who you are, and strive to make genuine connections. 

Once again, we have more resources to help you:


Losing your job can take the wind out of your sails, but there’s no need to panic. If you know what to do when you’re unemployed, you can make the most of the situation and use your time in between jobs to improve your career prospects. With dedication and hard work, you’ll soon find a new job, and your time unemployed will be a distant memory.