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Looking for a new job? First, conduct a social media check-up.

That Facebook photo of you with the lampshade on your head might get a laugh from your friends. But if you’re looking for a job, it might be best to keep it tucked away, where you can share it in private.

In this age of social media, keeping your private life truly private is harder than ever. But it’s also more important than ever, given that prospective employers are using every legal tool they can to find the best job applicants. It costs a firm a lot of money to hire and retain good employees. So, naturally, they want to know everything they can about you and your past. A resume and cover letter can only scratch the surface. So, up to 80% or more of them turn to your social media accounts.

Legally, companies looking to hire have to be careful about the personal information they look at online. Generally, hiring professionals will wait until the final vetting stages to do so. Otherwise, they expose themselves to risk, should a candidate with certain “protected characteristics” such as gender, race, age, medical condition or religion fail to get the job. Employers have learned it’s best to be shielded from such information in the early stages of selecting an applicant. Some will even hire outside companies to conduct social media background checks, to help keep them on firm legal footing.

But sooner or later, someone in a position to hire you will want to know what you look like when you’re not dressed for an interview, or how many previous jobs you’ve had or if you really do have that MBA from Harvard. And Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to start looking. So, keep these tips in mind when conducting your social media check-up:

  1. First, learn how to use your accounts’ privacy settings. Follow the sites’ instructions or use Google to find a tutorial or instructional video.
  2. Hide your “Friends” list. One of your buddies may not be on friendly terms with the hiring manager. Don’t take that risk. Also, remove or hide posts about religion, politics and any alcohol or drug use. Delete unflattering photos of yourself. And remove all obscenities.
  3. Don’t hide everything, though. Yes, you would be right to take out details of that beer chugging contest with your frat brothers. But if you and your community group regularly help others through blood drives, trash pick-ups and visits to senior homes, leave those details in for everyone to see.
  4. If you hope to land a job that involves writing (and many of them do), check your posts for correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. No one expects perfection in a casual note about your favorite, new restaurant. But longer entries and blog posts should reflect your professional skills.

Remember: Anything you make public on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter can potentially be seen by any current, prospective or future employer; and it can have a huge impact on your career. Have fun with social media. But keep it professional. And for heaven’s sake, put that lampshade back where it belongs.