With more than 250 million members, LinkedIn is the largest social media site for professionals. Whether you are an executive at a Fortune 500 company or a recent graduate looking for an entry-level position, LinkedIn connects you with people within your industry to share ideas, learn new information and get leads on jobs.

In recent years, LinkedIn has become a more important resource for MBA graduates who want to find new opportunities and improve their career prospects. MBA programs are incorporating LinkedIn into their curriculums, encouraging students to join not only to boost their personal networks but also employing it as a tool in human resources, organizational development, leadership and management courses.

One of the most important ways they are doing this is via LinkedIn groups. While users most often connect through profiles and private messages, LinkedIn groups are a rich resource for MBA students and recent graduates who want to build deeper connections while also broadening their knowledge base.

The Basics of LinkedIn Groups

Groups on LinkedIn work like groups on other sites. Members join based on shared interests or backgrounds to discuss related topics. Groups can be as large as several thousand people or small private groups, such as a group comprised of members of a particular course.

Because there are more than 12,000 MBA-specific groups on LinkedIn, finding the perfect one for you may be a challenge. In general, some of the things to look for in a group include:

Activity. A group with thousands of members is not going to help you build your network if no one is connecting. Look for a group that is active, with at least a few posts every week with a high level of engagement.

Focus. When you search for MBA-related groups on LinkedIn, you’ll find an array of general, MBA-focused groups as well as more specific groups, such as those based on demographics, school affiliation, employer, area of study or career goals. For example, female MBA students will find a wealth of resources and potential contacts in the National Association of Women MBAs group, while those seeking careers in finance, marketing, business intelligence, entrepreneurship or other specific fields can join groups tailored to those interests.

Relevance. While LinkedIn and group moderators do a good job keeping scammers and spammers from clogging the network, some inappropriate posts sneak through. Review the types of posts being made in the group. If you are looking to share ideas on leadership, a group where most of the posts relate to multi-level marketing opportunities is not going to be useful to you.

Suggestions. LinkedIn will actually suggest potential groups for you based on your existing connections and the information contained in your profile. The more complete your profile, the more precise the recommendations you will receive. Developing a compelling summary that highlights your career goals and skills, and be specific about your experience. LinkedIn uses this information to suggest groups that may be interesting to you, saving you time and guesswork.

Alumni. Do not overlook your program or university’s alumni groups. These are among the best places to make contacts, as you already have common ground with other members.

Killing the Cold Contact

When you find the right group, it offers a number of benefits. An active group of engaged professionals can serve as an extension of your classroom. Following discussions related to current events or best practices, for example, provide insight into the concepts you’re learning in the classroom and their application to real world situations. The group provides access to people you may not otherwise meet and perspectives you may not see outside of your program.

Your level of engagement in a group can also improve your personal network without the need to make cold contacts, which most professionals agree are not effective or welcome on LinkedIn. By asking questions, sharing information and resources and engaging in conversations with other group members, you develop a more organic relationship, one that you can call upon when you send a request to connect.

Of course, your interactions in groups can help land you a job. Groups offer a platform for sharing your knowledge and ideas, and demonstrating your commitment to your career and the field. By interacting and becoming a resource to others, you’re demonstrating the give and take so vital to good networking. Do not be afraid to share content, ask for opinions or provide your insights to others’ questions or comments.

LinkedIn groups are an expansion of the site’s ability to bring people together. With more business schools using the site to help students and graduates meet the challenges of today’s business world, it is imperative for MBA candidates to join, and use, LinkedIn to improve their career prospects.