So proud you are.

You’re not only on LinkedIn (seriously, that was so 2012), you’re using it—regularlyfor career networking, research, job updates, and, ahem, the occasional scoping of that guy with the great teeth from accounting (anonymously, of course).

But what about the Groups? Sure, sure, you’ve probably joined a few (don’t those logos look impressive all lined up on your profile page there?). But are you truly using them?

Groups can be among the most valuable resources for job search, career networking, and professional branding out there—but unfortunately, most people don’t take full advantage of them. Actually, a lot of people don’t know how to proceed once they join one, and so they end up not using them at all.

Well, today we’re going to change that. Whether you’re hunting for a new job, looking to connect with some new people, or trying to gain a new reputation as a leader in your field, here’s how to max out the value of your LinkedIn Groups.

First, Which Groups Should You Join?

The Groups that will likely be most valuable to you are these related to your industry, your job function, and your (current or desired) geography. If you can find a combo Group that hits both your industry and your geography (e.g., Portland Accounting and Finance Professionals), this is where you’re most likely going to get the most value.

From there? Join a few, and then pay attention to the discussions that are happening. There are tons of brilliant, thoughtful, well-moderated Groups on LinkedIn. And some of them flat-out suck. You’ll realize pretty quickly which ones are which; the lousy ones are usually dormant or slammed with spammers. Exit stage left on those, and spend your time and energy on the others.

Now What?

Here are five specific things you can do once you join a Group that can seriously boost your job search and career.

1. Engage in the Discussions

If you’re going to join the room, don’t just stand there hoping no one will notice you, for cryin’ out loud—jump in. Take a spin through the conversations and posts in the discussion threads. See any that are interesting, or to which you could add some value or insight? That’s your cue to jump in and share your expertise.

Benefit: You may meet valuable people in your area or industry, and you can begin to position yourself as someone who is passionate, knowledgeable, and engaged in your field.

2. Post Your Own Questions, or Share Content

Same deal, but one step bolder. You actually start the discussion thread with the hopes of involving fellow members of the Group in the conversation. Ask a question, share an article, or introduce yourself if you’re new to the group. Just be mindful of the specific rules and spirit of any given group (e.g., does the Group love debating controversial issues, or is it more of a feel-good party?), and post thoughtfully.

Benefit: Another great way to brand yourself as someone who knows her stuff and likes what she does. You can imagine that people who hate their chosen field or aren’t very good at what they do are not spending much time “talking shop” in industry-specific LinkedIn Groups, right?

3. Check out Jobs Specific to Your Field

Most Groups have separate sections where members can post open positions that they feel would be specifically relevant to that Group’s membership. And plenty of recruiters post in niche Groups with the hopes of finding narrowly qualified, local talent. So, if you’re on the hunt for a new job, check them out regularly.

Benefit: You may find the perfect job that isn’t widely advertised elsewhere—and even have an in with the recruiter or hiring manager (remember all those discussions you’ve been starting?).

4. Contact (and Connect With) Fellow Group Members

Find someone in that Group who may be beneficial to talk to or know long-term? Strike up a little banter with him. Through your joint group affiliation, you’re able to email people directly, even if they aren’t members of your network. You can also then approach in a way that starts out with, “You and I are both members of the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. I happened to notice you head up marketing at XYZ Company, and I thought I’d introduce myself!” 

Benefit: Other than the obvious benefit of knowing that person, by approaching through the shared group affiliation, you seem less like a cold call and more like “one of my people.”

 

5. Consider Starting Your Own Group

This can be an exceptional way to brand yourself in your field—after all, nothing says “I am a thought leader” quite like running your own Group. However, if you’re going to dive into this one, be committed to being an exceptional moderator and one who regularly engages your members. Otherwise, stick with being a “regular” in established Groups.

Benefit: You don’t just look like a thought leader, you look like a leader. And could enhance your opportunities to meet incredibly interesting, helpful people.

 

And a final (yet important) side note: If you’re a covert job seeker, you may want to hide the logos of any job search-related Groups (e.g., Public Relations and Communications Jobs Community) that you join, as your network may wonder what’s up. Likewise, if you’re flying under the radar, be mindful that the comments you make in discussions will appear in your people’s News Feed, so won't want to broadcast your search.

But that’s OK. Brand yourself as a leader in your field, and you won’t have to tell people you’re job hunting. Ideally, the jobs will come to you.

Photo of group of people courtesy of Shutterstock.