It goes without saying that social networking has completely overtaken our society. Beginning with the reinvigorated excitement over Facebook, into what sparked the popularity of Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest: you name it, we spend countless hours on it updating, scrolling, and posting to media sites that make us feel “connected.” In its most innocent form, social media can remain an effortless way to keep in touch with old friends or distant family.

But social media has a dark, scandalous side — the side most of us push to the back of our priority center when making posts and the same side that can end up coming back to kick us where it hurts the most if we’re not careful.

If you’re anything like me, you learn everything the hard way. In fact, you might wonder if you’re just genetically predispositioned to getting yourself caught up in these scenarios. Hey, it happens to the best of us.

I recently had my first (and hopefully last) social media wake up call after getting into a bit of grief with my own careless post. (And because I know you’re squirming for details, it went something along the lines of telling my school’s administration “what they could do” with their policies, which then resulted in a stern reprimanding and extended lecture.) All joking aside, it’s situations such as these (the lighthearted rant about how awful the office was today in an effort to blow off steam, or the novel-length vent or “subtweet” regarding a friend or follower) that can take your good character and relentlessly rip your reputation to pieces in the eyes of the very people you need good standing with.

So there’s a few general rules of the road to follow when it comes to handling ourselves, especially as women, on social networking. You know the basics — don’t put up racy photos of yourself in slim-to-none clothing, don’t boast about needing to get drunk, what you did last night while you were drunk, or how bad your hangover is from getting drunk. (Okay, let’s just keep our drunken festivities to ourselves, shall we?) But aside from the “no-no” norms, what about the things we honestly view as harmless?

According to Forbes in a study conducted back in 2012, more than 56% of all employers use social networking as a means of evaluating quality of potential employees — and that percentage is climbing a steep slope.

Employers generally use our social media sites to assess “five big qualities” on a scale of 1-5, says Forbes: Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. All of which will be gauged dependent upon the diction you use in your statuses, the photos and posts you’re tagged in, the pages you “like” or are linked to in any way — overall the way you present yourself on any social media site, whether it was your deliberate intention or not. This is where profanity, the sexy dress you bought just to go out on the town last weekend, and even your frustration over daily life backfire on you. Employers can view your portrayal as uneducated, undiscretioned, and reproaching based on just a quick scroll through your personal profile.

While I’ll be the first to side with those who argue that a post made in a humorous or playful effort should not deter a professional from assessing our abilities on their own terms outside of the internet spectrum, I do encourage some amount of discernment and responsibility when it comes to managing your accounts.

The basic rule of thumb I go by is, “Would I want my former teachers reading this post? What about my family? My boss?” If you feel initially that what you’re about to post could misconstrue your character if you had not the ability to explain yourself thereafter, even in the slightest way possible, don’t press that send button. (Or, if you’re like me, you’ll type it, erase it, type it again, maybe screenshot it and stare at it for awhile and then delete the shot once you feel better.)

I’m not advocating abandoning your social media or inducting yourself into a nunnery every time you log on, but there are simply some things that can stand to be left off of your profiles — for your own sake. Why let anyone hold something you posted two years ago over your head? Don’t give employers, or even your friends for that matter, any reason to take your posts and twist them into a criticism. Use common sense. Perceive every reaction before you make that click.

And ultimately, remain the professional, intelligent, classy lady everyone knows you already are.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!