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For career-minded folks, maintaining a clean image in the online community is as important as it is in real life, experts say.

Especially now: Some three out of four employers "check out potential hires online,” according to Linda Lopeke, creator of SMARTSTART virtual mentoring programs, based in Toronto.

“It is becoming more important than ever to not have anything online that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see,” says Lopeke.

That means your social networking sites on Facebook or MySpace need attention. Those wild pictures from the toga party last weekend, get ‘em off. And don’t even consider blogging about your college era escapades, they could be brought up during a job interview. (If you don’t know what constitutes inappropriate, you’ll likely find out soon.)

These are career issues your parents never had to cope with. Here's some advice on how to deal from the experts:

Do Privacy Settings Really Work?
Privacy settings are options for most online networking services such as MySpace and Facebook and are worth considering. With these settings, users can block other users, even friends, from viewing certain aspects of their page. But are they fully effective?

Not so much. Many employers and human resources departments are technologically savvy enough to lift enough information from the page, even if certain components are kept as private, says Lopeke. “Membership for certain groups and applications are visible,” she says, “even by people who aren’t your [Facebook/MySpace] friends.”

Privacy settings provide a false sense of security, says Jason Alba, co-author of I’m on Facebook—Now What?: How to Get Personal, Business, and Professional Value from Facebook. “There are ways people can get around the privacy settings,” he says. For example, downloading applications allow the application's creators to fully access your profile and seek out information. Also, having friends with certain applications may allow further access to your page.

Even if the content remains private, keeping certain areas of your Facebook or MySpace page from others is bound to stir up suspicion, which is why inappropriate content is best left off the net.  “If it’s not something you’d be comfortable seeing on the front page of the Wall Street Journal,” says Alba, “don’t post it online.”

Do You Have To Accept Your Boss’s Friend Request?

The answer is no. In the interest of keeping professional relationships strictly professional, there is no obligation to accept any such friend request, Lopeke says. And most bosses likely won’t push for a relationship outside of the office, even online, Alba says.

Accepting a friend request could draw the relationship into questionable territory. “If my boss had a crush on me and I wasn’t interested, maybe I wouldn’t accept that friend request,” he says. But doesn’t that seem rude? Not necessarily, says Lopeke. “You can tell your boss, or any other workers [you don’t want to connect with online] that you use the site for close friends and family only.”

What Goes On The Net, Stays On The Net.

Even if you remove or alter something on your webpage of profile, it is completely gone? Search engines on sites like the Internet Achieve Wayback Machine provide access to what a webpage looked like at a previous time. “If Google has indexed your Facebook page, even if it might have changed, old pages can still show up,” says Lopeke. “It’s better to be proactive and think carefully about what you post because it will be there for a long time.”

Be Aware That Your 'Personal Brand' Is In Progress
Regardless of the original Facebook or MySpace page's purpose (to network, make friends, maintain connections or to create a professional profile), these pages become a part of a user’s online identity or brand, says Alba. It’s an extension of yourself, in which people are apt to make judgments – consider this before saving your settings and uploading your photos.