LinkedIn Groups can be critical to a successful job search because of the many ways you can leverage them for both visibility and credibility - when you use them with care.
LinkedIn members can join up to 100 Groups, although the average LinkedIn member belongs to only seven of them. My strong recommendation is that anyone in a job search join as many groups as they can, all fifty if possible, at least while in job search mode.
Over 2,00,000 Groups exist -- for many topics like jobs and job search (like our own Job-Hunt Help Group, of course!), industries, professions, businesses and types of businesses, locations, employers (and employer alumni), technologies, hobbies, publications, and more.
You won't have trouble finding fifty groups that can help your job search and your career.
Demonstrate what you know by sharing good information you have written or found online. Comment carefully, respectfully, and knowledgeably because what you share in a LinkedIn Group is a live demonstration of who you are, how (and how well) you communicate, and how you work with others.
Groups are a great way to "meet" people virtually. Comment appropriately on other members' comments and discussions. Your Profile photo will make you recognizable, like a personal logo across all discussions (and social networks), and you will soon begin to look for the contributions of other LinkedIn "friends" by scanning for their Profile photos, too.
You'll find amazing information available in LinkedIn Groups, from job postings to scientific discoveries and everything in between. In particular, LinkedIn Groups are excellent sources of information about many employers, directly from current and former employees.
Use the Group's simple search function (on the "Search" tab) to find discussions that interest you. Then, do your research, and, if appropriate, "like" the discussion, and add an appropriate and relevant comment (be nice!).
Whatever your field, people are sharing the latest information about that field with other members of relevant Groups. Life-long learning is a fact of life (and career survival) for most of us, and Groups will help you stay up-to-date.
Again, the Group's search function can help you find appropriate and relevant discussions to help you advance in your knowledge.
Groups are excellent, but hazards do exist, and most of the hazards I've observed are self-inflicted wounds:
Linkedin allows you to manage the visibility of various Groups on your LinkedIn Profile through each Group's settings. A Group is visible when the Group's logo appears on your Profile. You can also edit your Profile to select the Group logos to make them easily visible (or not) when someone - like your boss or a recruiter - is scanning your Profile.
If you are currently employed, don't make your membership in any Groups for job search visible on your Profile.
In addition, most LinkedIn Groups have rules about what behavior is acceptable within the Group and what behavior is not acceptable. You can do what you want, of course, but ignoring a Group's rules can seriously impact your visibility inside of LinkedIn.
A Group's owner or manager can block your posts to their Group if you ignore the Group's rules. The result can be putting you into "moderation" for all of your Groups. This is called "SWAM" (site-wide automated moderation), and it's best to avoid it when possible because it can limit your LinkedIn visibility for a while.
Each Group's rules are available by clicking on the "i" at the top of each Group page, and clicking on the "Rules" link, if one is there.
[Related: How to Avoid the LinkedIn Penalty Box.]
You know the basics, of course: your profile must be 100% complete, including a nice headshot photo (just you - no babies, pets, family, or friends). Groups will help you expand your LinkedIn Connections which is necessary for visibility inside LinkedIn. You will only be visible in the search results of people who are connected to you, so the more connections, the better.
More information about LinkedIn:
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.