But joining a group only is the beginning of the beginning. As with all things networking-related, the key to getting the most out of your LinkedIn groups—up to and including, ideally, your next professional purpose—is to give it a fair amount of time and thought.
Create an intelligent presence on the group page.
Here is your chance to be visible to other people who share key interests. Join discussions where you can contribute value. Reinforce and validate, or urge caution and moderation, but don’t publicly vilify or deride someone else for their contribution.
Many groups allow polls. You can cast your vote, and look at aggregate results—the percentage of votes for each answer option, and the distribution of LinkedIn member demographics across poll respondents. No one, however, will know how you voted—unless you also post a comment and choose to have the comment display what you voted for.
You can post your own discussions and create your own polls; the latter is done by clicking on the three gray horizontal bars you find in the right-hand corner of the “Start a discussion…” field. Here is your chance to position yourself as committed, proactive, original, and intelligible (and whatever else you want your brand to be recognized for). If a discussion you start garners enough comments from other group members, you may even be showcased as one of the “top influencers in this group.”
Target, and approach, contacts of value to you.
You are interested in contacts at XYZ company. You spot people on LinkedIn who work there. If you are not yet connected, then for the most part your only option of approaching another person directly is through a personalized invitation to join your network.
The effectiveness of invitations for the purpose of first building rapport is questionable. The subject line is fixed here (“Join my network on LinkedIn”); the personal note has a 300-character limit (that’s barely more than two Tweets); and the core message inevitably is to ask a stranger for a leap-of-faith acceptance of you into their network. This all can add up to a certain awkwardness.
That’s where groups come in. LinkedIn users who share a group can message each other directly with full-fledged InMails (although this has to be done through the group page). See if you and the person you would like to get in touch with already share a group. If that is not the case, look at the groups this person is part of, and join one of those groups (preferable an “open” group—one where you don’t have to wait for manager approval of your request to join). Once you, too, are part of the group, you can approach that person, and build rapport without the initial “gamble” of asking to be a connection of theirs right away.
Use the “proprietary” job/job-discussion postings on the group page.
Recruiters sometimes make it a point to avoid the big-ticket job sites such as Monster and CareerBuilder. Job postings there often result in a deluge of responses, with many job seekers submitting applications in a manner equivalent to throwing pasta against the wall, seeing what sticks.
That’s where profession-specific LinkedIn groups come in. Recruiters sometimes figure that job seekers in LinkedIn groups make for higher-“quality” candidates than the general job-seeker population “out there”: the pool of group members is essentially self-selected. Moreover, in the case of “closed” groups (those requiring manager approval of your request to join), members presumably have undergone a minimum of vetting.
The LinkedIn group, therefore, may be one of the few places a job opportunity gets publicized. What is more, you can see who posted it. View that person’s profile to see what their role in the application, interviewing, and hiring process may be. Look also at the “Viewers of this profile also viewed” box; it can provide you with leads to people with a key say in the process.
And when you see an “Apply Now” button in the job posting, it means your application will go directly through LinkedIn, rather than be redirected to some black-hole application website. That is off the beaten path by comparison with applications submitted the (by now conventional) online way.
Then, suppose a recruiter finds your application interesting, looks you up on the group page via the “Members” tab, and clicks on “See activity.” It can only work in your favor when your activity shows you have been contributing with quality and consistency.