Welcome to the ranks of the unemployed. You join 27,000 other people now on the District of Columbia jobless rolls. And one of your first questions is how to collect unemployment benefits.

The District of Columbia last month revamped its unemployment compensation process and this is how the new system works:

Instead of personally filing a claim every two weeks at the central Unemployment Office at 500 C St. NW, applicants need to appear in person only once at one of five neighborhood job centers. After that, you file for your compensation check by mail, which city officials hope will give unemployed residents more time to go job hunting.

Here is a brief guide to the District's new unemployment system: Where to Go

The city no longer accepts unemployment claims at its office at 500 C St. NW. Anyone applying for benefits should go to one of five outlying centers, which are open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You are assigned to a center according to your home zip code. The locations of the offices and the zip codes they serve are:

* Cardozo-Shaw Center, 1000 U St. NW, zip codes 20001, 20004, 20005, 20006, 20007, 20009, 20036 and 20037.

* Petworth Center, 4120 Kansas Ave. NW, zip codes 20008, 20010, 20011, 20012, 20015 and 20016.

* Northeast Center, 1319 H St. NE, zip codes 20002, 20003, 20017, 20018 and 20024.

* Anacostia Center, 1217 Good Hope Rd. SE, zip codes 20019 and 20020.

* Washington Highland Center, Eighth and Xenia streets SE, zip code 20032.

If you report to the wrong center, your claim will be processed, city officials said, but after that your case will be transferred to the appropriate neighborhood office.

Maryland and Virginia residents who last worked in the District can file their unemployment claims at any one of the five branches. Unemployment office officials said that, under present plans, once a claim is processed, the records for Maryland residents will be transferred to the Petworth Center and Virginia claims will go to Cardozo-Shaw.

When you apply for benefits bring your Social Security card or, if you worked for the federal government, your proof of wages.

Even though the neighborhood centers are designed to cut down on waiting time, lines start forming at some of the centers as early as 7:15 a.m., supervisors said. Bring lunch and a book and expect to wait. Filing a Claim

After filling out a set of applications and meeting with advisers to determine if you are eligible for benefits, you are given computer cards and envelopes that should be mailed back to the center to collect your benefits. Your first compensation check should arrive in three to four weeks, officials said.

After you sending in your first claim, the Employment Services Department will mail you additional computer cards, which you should fill out and send back every other Sunday or Monday to collect benefits for the preceding two weeks. Getting a Check

If you mail your computer cards on Monday, your check should arrive in the mail on Saturday or the following Monday, said Matthew Shannon, deputy director of the Employment Services Department. This takes longer than the old system, in which a person who reported to the central office every other Monday would receive his check in the mail on Wednesday or Thursday, he said.

Because of problems with the new decentralized, computerized system, unemployment supervisors said, lengthy delays can be expected. Some checks are arriving as much as six weeks late, they said. Shannon said that such long waits "would be an exception rather than a rule." How Much?

The minimum weekly benefit paid in the District is $14 and the maximum is $196 a week, said Jerry Blount, the city's unemployment insurance director.

Your weekly benefit is based on the highest amount you earned during a period designated by law. If you file a claim after Oct. 4, for instance, your check will be based on the highest total wages you earned during any calendar quarter between July 1, 1980 and June 30, 1981.

The minimum $14 benefit goes to an individual who earned between $300 and $322 during the designated three months. Individuals who received $4,485 or more during their top quarter can receive the maximum benefit of $196 a week.

You are eligible to receive unemployment benefits for 34 weeks, Blount said. The first week after you lose a job does not count because it is considered a waiting period. If you interrupt your claim period by accepting a job for several weeks, you still are eligible to collect benefits for 34 out of the 52 weeks after you entered your claim, Blount said.