(This article appeared originally on NextAvenue.org.)
One of the most valuable, but often overlooked, tools on LinkedIn is LinkedIn Groups—more than 3 million online forums where like-minded professionals share ideas around a specific field, company or other topic of interest. If you’re looking for a job or want to start a side gig, LinkedIn Groups can be extremely useful.
Fortunately, thanks to a few upgrades LinkedIn recently began implementing and that will be rolling out over coming months, its Groups feature has now become easier to use.
Let me explain why LinkedIn Groups can be helpful and how to get the most from this feature.
When you’re job hunting, LinkedIn Groups can help you expand your network of professional contacts, attract the notice of recruiters and alert you to hidden job opportunities. Each Group also has a Jobs tab, which can help you learn about possible openings.
If you’re eager to launch a side gig, especially one that’s very different from your current job, LinkedIn Groups offer a convenient way to ask connections about their fields and business endeavors.
Before I get to the latest improvements, here’s how to find LinkedIn Groups you might want to join:
The redesigned LinkedIn Groups home page now lets you quickly review discussions in your Groups, manage your Group settings and find new Groups to join. Here’s a bit more about each of these features, along with tips on how best to use them:
Once you’re on the Groups homepage, you’ll see “Today’s Highlights” —a personalized snapshot of the important conversations taking place in your Groups. Now, you can quickly scan through your group discussions without having to click through lots of pages.
My tip: Participating in LinkedIn Group discussions, by sharing a helpful article, insightful tip or thoughtful response to a member’s question, is an excellent way to establish your thought leadership and expand your network.
You can even use this feature with people who aren’t part of your LinkedIn network. I’ve started conversations with several people I didn’t know this way. And in one case, the initial conversation led to a speaking opportunity I wouldn’t have landed otherwise.
LinkedIn now alerts you to social activities on your LinkedIn Group posts, including likes, comments and @ mentions within the Notifications tab on the LinkedIn website and LinkedIn mobile apps. So even if you’re not in active job search mode and don’t want to waste time checking in with your Groups page, make it a habit to check your LinkedIn homepage at least once a week. It won’t take more than a few minutes, and it’s an efficient way to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in your network.
To review and manage your group settings (e.g., the frequency of email notifications about group activity) click on “My Groups” in the top navigation bar. Once there, you’ll find a listing of all your LinkedIn Groups, along with the option to leave a group or adjust your group settings.
My tip: On the Group Settings page, take advantage of the “Visibility” feature to display the logos of a few key LinkedIn Groups in your LinkedIn Profile. That’s a subtle way to reinforce your interest in different fields or companies. And it’s an especially valuable tactic if you’re trying to shift careers, but don’t yet have much relevant experience to display on your profile.
When you click on “Discover” in the top navigation bar, you’ll be redirected to a page where you can review, and join, LinkedIn Groups of interest. LinkedIn prepopulates your page with suggestions of Groups it thinks might be a good fit based on your LinkedIn Profile. For example, because I have “Speaker” listed on my profile, LinkedIn suggested “Motivational Speaker Academy” as a group I might want to join.
To join a LinkedIn Group, just click on the “Ask to Join” button and you’ll either be automatically added or your membership will show as pending review (in cases where members must be approved by the LinkedIn Group administrator).
My tip: Since LinkedIn makes Group recommendations based on your profile, you might not always find what you’re looking for on the Discover page. To search for other Groups, type keywords or names of interest into the search bar at the top of your main LinkedIn homepage. Then, on the search results page, click the Groups tab to filter your results.
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a career coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. Her website is MyLifestyleCareer.com; on Twitter she is @NancyCollamer.