(MoneyWatch) Most job-seekers plan on keeping their current gig while searching for the next one. But that strategy may be jeopardized if your boss finds out that you're in the market for a new position. Sometimes, that might not come as a big surprise.
"If layoffs have been announced, then looking for a new position should not be a surprise. It is a proactive step to protect yourself and your family," says career consultant Roy Cohen, author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." But if your job and industry are relatively stable, your manager could hold it against you. If this is the case, here are three ways to deal with the situation (or at least keep you employed until you get a new gig).
Note the economy. Even if your job doesn't appear to be in immediate danger, no job is completely safe these days, says Cohen. Simply explain that when this excellent opportunity presented itself, you felt it was only prudent to take the meeting. Take care to note that this doesn't mean that you aren't satisfied with your current position or that you are actively looking. "You can then explain you were planning to withdraw from the process once they were impressed by your qualifications but before you jeopardized this newly acquired [contact]," Cohen says.
Use it to jump-start a conversation. If you think your current job situation can be improved, this is a prime opportunity to get that discussion going. Explain what opportunities would need to open up for you at your company to make you want to stay, says career coach Susan Whitcomb, author of "Resume Magic." "Then say, 'Should those opportunities materialize elsewhere, and if there are no similar opportunities within our team/department/company, I'd do everything in my power to make sure we have the systems and people in place to be able to fill my shoes quickly,' " Whitcomb says. This paints you as a team player while giving your boss input that could make your current work situation work for you.
Deny it. Lying to your employer about being in the market for a job can be risky, not to mention ethically dubious at best. But if you do it, be convincing. "I would ask how a nasty rumor like that could have been started and why," Cohen says. Then, say as little as possible, extricate yourself from the conversation quickly and ramp up your job search efforts -- stat. "Your goal is to buy time if your situation is bad," he says. If you don't outright deny that you're conducting a job search, consider mentioning that the company sought you out -- whether or not you were the one who initiated contact. This will have you looking like a valuable and desirable employee, rather than a disloyal one.