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How to Use LinkedIn to Advance Your Career

By now you’ve probably gotten the message that being on LinkedIn is a career must-do. But are you actively using its Groups feature to advance your career? If not, here are five ways to make the most of this valuable LinkedIn function.

Build your professional brand visibility. Search for groups in your professional discipline that seem to be the most active (most members, lots of discussions and comments), and join, then lurk for a bit to get a sense of the group’s interactions. Once you feel comfortable with the group dynamics, begin to engage by sharing your knowledge in response to posted questions, sharing information resources, asking thoughtful questions, and commenting positively on others’ posts. The quality of your contributions will begin building your visibility as a knowledgeable, engaged professional in your area of expertise. (Tip: check out the previous discussion threads before posting a question, just in case it’s been covered before.)

Build your professional network. Within the LinkedIn system, you can generally only direct-message people with whom you’re officially connected. If you belong to a group, however, you can communicate with all fellow members directly, and also see their profiles. This gives you the ability to search for individuals with whom you may have interests in common, or whom you may be able to learn from, and approach them to connect on LinkedIn. Eventually you may want to request information about their career paths, the work they do (and how they like it), their employer, etc. in the form of an informational interview. (And of course you’ll offer to reciprocate in any ways that may be helpful….)

Keep abreast of issues and trends. In active groups, a lot of the discussion threads touch on emerging trends and issues. Frequently people will reference relevant articles or blog posts, mention upcoming webinars or conference sessions, or otherwise share information that will help you stay current in your field. Additionally, you can simply post a question about an issue, asking for members’ feedback or experiences on a key point.

Research potential employers. Another great way to use groups is to find fellow members who are employed at companies you may be interested in, and reach out to them for insider insights about working conditions, job opportunities, advancement possibilities, and more. This could apply to companies they currently work for, or ones they worked for previously (which will show up in their profiles).

Explore career paths. In the same way you would connect to group members to learn about potential employers, you can also learn more about specific career paths in your field by checking out the group members’ profiles to see who’s pursuing a career that interests you. Reach out to them and ask if you can arrange a time to talk or exchange a list of e-mail questions about their careers, their pros and cons, their advice re pursuing a similar career, etc.

According to LinkedIn, there were over a million groups in existence as of March 2012. That means there are bound to be at least several groups that may support your professional goals and development. Not sure where to begin? Start by putting in your key search terms (job title or profession or expertise) in the Groups search box and check out the suggestions that come up. Next, check out leaders in your field to see what groups they belong to, and see if they might be of interest to you as well. Lastly, go to the More > Skills & Expertise section, put in your skill set or job title, and see what relevant LinkedIn groups are suggested at the bottom of the page. Trying these three options should provide you with plenty of useful groups to check out.

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