If you've lost your job through no fault of your own, you'll probably want to begin collecting your unemployment benefits as soon as possible.

People who have been through that drill can commiserate. Employers who let workers go don't always provide details about what to do next.

First, a word of caution:

Unemployment is not one size fits all. Program rules vary from state to state. Eligibility for benefits, state or federal, also vary from worker to worker. Your case is individual, but here are some general guidelines that might help speed the process.

- File (or at least research what it takes to file) as soon as you lose your job. If you don't file in a timely way, you may lose some of the benefits that might be due you.

- Begin the process by going to the unemployment Web site of the state in which you worked.

- Be aware that because of the high volume of claims, it may take six to eight weeks to process your information.

- When you call the unemployment office, you may be put on hold for a long time. Officials suggest trying to call during the last half of the week - Mondays and Tuesdays are usually the busiest days for claim filing.

- When you're ready to file, have ready your Social Security number and your address and phone numbers.

- Be ready to state the reason you're out of work. If you were fired "for cause" (performance failure, rule violations, etc.) you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits.

- Have ready the names and addresses of your previous employers for the last 18 months plus your beginning and ending employment dates with them.

For additional guidance about navigating unemployment, visit an AFL-CIO site at www.unemploymentlifeline. com. There, by entering your ZIP code, you can learn where your nearby career centers are located.

(c) 2009, The Kansas City Star.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.