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posted: 8/4/2013 7:38 AM

Work Advice: Is the photo in your email G-rated?

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Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers.

Q: I am reviewing resumes from the recent crop of college graduates and am stunned at the number who send a perfectly written cover letter and an interesting resume but then ruin their chances with a profile photo attached to their email that shows them hoisting a beer mug, smoking a hookah or posing in a tight T-shirt.

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I wish you would do a column for these young people. There are thousands of them applying for jobs right now, and some of them are so well educated and so clueless. Thank you.

A: Hear that, young'uns? Time to ditch the duckface, banish the beer bong and think about how you're presenting yourself to the people who can grant or deny you access to Paycheckville.

But I'm thinking this cluelessness might be technological more than generational. Some of you may not be aware that if you have a profile picture on your email account -- Gmail, let's say -- other users outside your contacts list may be able to see it in the emails you send.

Just as you might ask friends to look over a cover letter or resume for you, you should also send them test emails. If they can see that cheeky selfie you uploaded back in college, you should replace it with something more professional. Better yet, with all the free email services out there, there's no reason you can't set up a new account just for job searches.

Photos aren't the only way your email correspondence could make a bad first impression. That George Carlin quote or religious passage in your signature might not seem as funny or inspirational to a hiring manager as it does to you -- so stick with basic contact information. And make sure your email address is business-appropriate and easy to connect to your resume. Save your "ScoobySnax420" handle for messages to friends.

While we're on the subject, all you not-so-recent grads should check out your virtual reflections, too. Does your LinkedIn profile show someone poised, polished and professional? If the picture you're sharing with potential employers features kids, pets or your wedding, consider replacing it with a simple headshot -- unless, of course, you're seeking a gig working with kids or animals, or as a life-size cake topper. Overly personal photos are not only unprofessional, but also may reveal information about you that hiring managers have no legal right to know.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to do something about this Facebook profile photo of me wearing a cat on my head.

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter: @KarlaAtWork.

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