My first job was offered to me, actually. I don't recall applying for it, as the topic was something I wasn't familiar with. The only thing I know about architecture and interior design were the things I read in my mother's books and magazines. My second job was pretty much similar. However, with both jobs, I learned along the way. Sometimes you won't find your "dream job" on oDesk. As a writer, I've yet to come across a job with a topic that I like from the get-go. However, you'll find that even the oddest topics can be quite fun and fulfilling. I feel lucky that the topics of the work I got were ones that I had some interest in, so it was easy to work on.
How to look for oDesk jobs
1. When you log in, you'll find a menu on the very top of the page. Choose "Find providers and jobs." You can either choose to click on it or from the drop-down box, choose "Find jobs."
2. On the next page, you'll see some search options to the left of the screen.
All you have to do is fill it in. You can type keywords of the type of work you're looking for, and choose from the options below. Since I'm a writer, I choose "Writing and Translation" from the category list. I usually leave the sub-category as it is, because sometimes find interesting jobs under other headings.
If you don't want to take the risk of getting "bad job openings," you can adjust the buyer facts. Feedback score would mean what people say about that person offering a job, while "any number of paid jobs" would mean that the company/employer has already had work done by someone and successfully paid them.
The time of the work can also be changed. I often pick hourly jobs, and work that requires ten hours or less because I can squeeze that in my day job hours. It's up to you though, as you know best how much time you can devote to the work.
Is this for me?
After you click on "search," a list of prospective jobs will show up. Browse through them, and click on the title to view the job details, as the list will only be a summary of what it's about. Each job lists when it was posted and when the job is planned to start. They'll also provide you details on what they want done and such. Don't hesitate to ask questions if you need some things clarified. Better to spend a time on that than waste time applying and finding out the job isn't for you after all.
Applying for the job
When you click on "Apply," you will be lead to a page where you need to type a cover letter. I'm not sure how formal a letter this should be, but if you have any doubts, oDesk provides a sample of good vs. bad cover letter. I also kept copies of my previous application letters and adjusted them as needed for the job that I'm applying for. Once, I tried doing an informal letter. I didn't get any feedback from that though, so if you must do the same, proceed with caution.
You can attach files to your letter too. These could be pictures or other documents that show samples of your work, and is often used by those who don't have sites.
Click on box on the terms and agreements, and your application has been submitted. All you have to do now is wait for the employer's reply.
From my experience, not every application you send out gets accepted. Sometimes, you're even lucky if you get a reply. Most of the time I learn about the job when I receive a message saying it was either closed, or that I wasn't picked. I don't want to blame the employers on this, especially those that have many applicants (sometimes, the good and easy jobs get at least forty applicants).
Don't be discouraged though. Just because they didn't reply or you didn't get the job, doesn't mean they haven't read your application or looked at your profile. I've seen my profile marked as a favorite by some employers. This means that they like my work and are considering me for future work. That's a positive sign, especially since I've only had two jobs since I started out.
That's it for the basics of looking for jobs at oDesk. Hope that helps.