By Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell

Exciting job opportunities can arise when you least expect them, even during an economic downturn. But in a competitive job market waiting too long to respond could cost you the job of your dreams.

We’ve all played the waiting game but Matthew Keeney, a New York-based performance artist, managed to turn waiting into an art form. Keeney waited in a Syracuse, New York park for over 28 hours during a nearly eight month period. The Waiting Project entailed Keeney’s sitting in the park at regular intervals until someone who had learned of the project came to rescue him from waiting.

If Keeney had been seeking employment, he’d probably still be waiting. Don’t expect a potential employer to wait for you to get your act together – especially during an economic downturn. To recession-proof your career, you’ve got to stay in shape so that you’re ready to respond quickly to opportunities. Use our Job Hunt To-Do-List to ensure that you’ll be competitive in this cutthroat job market. For more tips, check out our Career Management Action Plan

DO – Update your resume during an economic downturn

Back when spam came only in a can instead of your inbox, it was sufficient to get your resume out within a week. In the age of email – and especially during an economic downturn, the competition is too intense to keep a potential employer waiting much longer than 48 hours. Also, if you’re submitting your resume and resume cover letter online, make sure that you use plenty of keywords culled directly from the job description for the position that you’re pursuing. Finally, if you’re applying for more than one job, be sure to have more than one resume, and resume cover letter on file. Double your fun –have two resumes instead of one!

DO – Cultivate employment references during an economic downturn

The results of employment reference neglect can be ugly. Recently, Bill from Chicago wrote in about the mortifying answer that one of his references gave when he failed to notify them of his job search. It was a simple, “Bill who?” Needless to say, he didn’t land the job. Be sure to talk with your employment references regularly and notify them that they may be contacted. To ensure that you don’t overuse great employment references, it pays to have an A-list and B-list of employment references. Save your As for top jobs and your not-ready-for-prime-timers for the rest.

DO – Practice writing resume cover letters and thank you letters

The Speedo LZR swimsuit, made with hydrodynamic technology, has been a shared factor in all nine swimming world records this year. It has separated the winners from the losers – to the point of controversy. Think of well-written resume cover letters and stellar etiquette as the secret weapon that can help float you to the top of the pack. During an economic downturn employers get a flood of resumes and you’ll need a resume cover letter that gets attention. Show the employer you understand their company and that you’re a perfect fit for the job. Use resume cover letters and resume thank you letters to make a great first impression that will win you that coveted job position.

DON’T – Go into a job interview without doing research

A pilot friend of ours just went through a painful job interview brain cramp. You may be familiar with this – when your brain stops working and you simply can’t come up with a good answer to a question. Sometimes its anxiety, other times lack of preparation. But your job interview skills are like muscles and you have to keep them warmed up if you want to give a good job interview. Keep your skills warm by regularly taking job interviews for positions you don’t want. This will prepare you to fly through the job interview for the one you really do want. Also, try role-playing job interview questions with friends.

We can’t guarantee you’ll get a job offer, but at least you’ll be ready to take advantage of opportunities that come your way.

Next Step: Career Management Action Plan

Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell author the weekly internationally-syndicated workplace911 column. Bob’s a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. Sherrie’s a work relations expert and award-winning comedian. Together they offer 12 years of quick, intuitive and humorous column responses on their website. You can e-mail them at