Which jobs want my application? 4 steps toward matching your qualifications with a job you really want.

You know you need a job. You keep hearing that much from your landlord, your dad, and your girlfriend. But which job? Craigslist links are blurring into one big blue smear, you don’t see any listings on Monster you’re qualified for, and you’ve applied to 47 jobs in a field you’ve never even heard of this morning already.

Rewind. Deep breaths. A little bit of research and planning before you start looking can save you a lot of time and stress. You do have qualifications, but you need to figure out what they are.

Once you know which positions you can comfortably fill, you can limit your search to the openings you can turn into interviews, and focus your efforts on jobs you’d be happy and able to actually do. Here are some easy stepping-stones across the Sea of Unemployment toward the Island of Attainable Goals.

1. Take stock of your own abilities.

Consider the software you’ve used in the past, at school, in internships, or at other jobs. Take some Smarterer tests to get an idea of how much you actually know of each program. Check out our 4 most irresistible skills for tips on how to think about what you know. Make a list of the responsibilities you’ve handled, and wherever possible, put these in numbers – $25,000 budget, 15 volunteers, $5,000 raised – so  you have a concrete sense of what you’ve accomplished. These will come in handy later, both in comparison to job listings and as tools to make your best case for an interview.

2. Think about the kinds of work you find rewarding.

Write short descriptions of the positions, tasks, and situations you’ve tackled in the past that you enjoyed most, or from which you learned the most. Did you feel energized and motivated when you took charge of raising money for that charity back in college? Are you an addicted BzzAgent? Did you build a new Point of Sale from scratch in Excel when your store’s inventory system died? From these descriptions, pull out keywords that describe the jobs you really want.

3. Do some research.

Take some of the keywords from your descriptions and plug them into job sites. While this process may not immediately call up openings in your city that perfectly describe your dream job, it will definitely point you towards the kinds of jobs that you’d find fulfilling. Use Monster’s job profiles or ONet to scope out options. Write down the ones that sound appealing. Now you can narrow your search to the industries and positions you’d actually enjoy!

4. Venn Diagram.

Armed with your roster of appealing positions, your arsenal of abilities, and your keywords for your personal goals and strengths, go back to your search. Look for job listings that include your keywords, and weed out the results that aren’t on your wishlist. If something sounds good, cross-reference your qualifications. If you don’t have the five years’ experience, or you don’t know the program, then you know the job isn’t for you, and you can move on. If the posting matches both your inventory of skills and your descriptions of satisfying challenges – apply!

Since you know you’re qualified, and the job sounds like what you want to do, you’ll be able to make the best case for yourself. You want the job, and more importantly, you have what the recruiters want, and you know it.

Focusing on the jobs within your reach may seem limiting – it’s tempting to talk yourself into feeling capable of every attractive job you come across – but redirecting all that energy you spent applying for jobs that were out of your league will pay off. Now you know what you can do, and what you want to do, so you can net interviews that actually produce offers. Those other jobs, the ones you weren’t qualified for? You’ll get there, but you have to get there the way everyone else does: by becoming qualified. Making sure you’re looking for the right job for you right now is just the first step on the way.