Americans may be the job-huntingest people around. Always restless, they change jobs, or try to, about as often as they change cars - as if the perfect career/gadget/mate is just out of reach.

The average worker under 35, goes on a job hunt once every year and a half, one study shows. For the worker over 35, it's once every three years. And experts estimate that the average worker today will change careers - not just jobs - three to five times in his or her lifetime.

But the was they go about it is totally, utterly wrong, it you ask Richard Bolles.

Bolles, a jovial California cleric who confeses to being a "confirmed leisureholic," is the author of a topselling book on career planning called "What Color Is Your Parachute?" The book, subtitled "A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters & Career Changers," has made him something of a guru among people trying to change their jobs and their lives.

Since it was published in 1972 by Ten Speed Press, a small Berkeley company whose biggest success until then had been a book on bicycling, it has sold 650,00 copies, made Bolles a pile of money, and been acclaimed in such establishment publications as Business Week and the Harvard Business Review.

The Riview called it "one of the finest contributions to literature on life/work planning . . . A guide that can be used effectively by any individual interested in determining his job objectives and career goals."

Bolles, who is now being called on to conduct workshops and deliver speeches all over the country, believes that the traditional ways people are told to find jobs, and the assumptions they carry into the job hunt with them, either don't produce jobs or lead people to jobs they're unhappy with.

"If people are having trouble with the job hunt, it's not them," he says. "It's the Neanderthal system of job-hunting we have in this country."

Bolles thinks there's a better way. And he has set out to convince people of that. (Bolles notes that a crusading zeal seems to run in his family. His brother Don Bolles was the Arizona Republic reporter killed while investigating political and business corruption in that state two years ago.)

This week, Bolles was spreading his message in Washington, at the annual convention of the American Personnel and Guidance Association. But most of the time he operates from Walnut Creek, Calif., where he runs a career development project for the United Ministries in Higher Education, a coalition of nine major Protestant denominations offering services on college campuses around the country.

Whatever missionary zeal Bolles had in his first career as an Episcopalian parish minister seems to have carried over to his second. "Life skill work planning takes seriously the brevity of this life we have," he says.

One of its main goals, says Bolles, is to get people to try to blend achievement, play and learning in their work - "the idea that you should enjoy your job and learn on the job," not just perform the work.

Are you a government planner who hates his job but loves camping?Maybe you have the skills to convience a camping-equipment manufacturer to hire you. Are you a corporation lawyer who sneaks away from the office to spend your days in art galleries? Maybe you should find a job in the art world that uses your abilities.

Normally, though, Bolles says, people start out with some idea of the field they want to go into. Somewhere down the line they find out how their skills mesh - or don't mesh - with a particular job.

What he thinks they should do, swithching jobs, is to figure out beforehand what their skills really are by "atomizing" their previous achievements into component parts. (If you've ever been a salesman, for example, you're probably good at dealing with people and working with figures.) They should then decide what they want to do based on the skills they enjoy using, and finally focus on what specific jobs will enable them to do what they want.

"A crucial point, a devastating point," says Bolles, "is that we may have certain skills but not enjoy them."

Bolles has particular criticism for the traditional job-hunting process.

"Did you know that only one out of every 1,470 resumes sent out by all people ever links someone up with a job?" he says. Not much better in his opinion are employment agencies, job counselors, classified ads, and the other accepted devices for helping people find work.

"All these traditional job-hunting merchanisms know only about one-fifth of all vacancies available at any one time," he says. "And using them, you find you are not simply going somewhere (where) there's let it be known there's a vacancy. The thing to do is to ignore whether a place has a vacancy and just go to places where you want to work."

Two-thirds of job-hunters find their jobs through friends and contacts, says Bolles - a fact that he is not the first to cite. But while going through friends and acquaintances may yield a job, he says, it will not necessarily guarantee a job that makes you happy - not unless you have already done the necessary homework to figure out what you want, and can then use those contacts to find the right job.

Bolles says that his deas "should work better in Washington than almost anyplace else I can think of" - manly because "Washington more than anywhere else operates on a network of contacts and who-you-know. And my whole point is to try to develop your own communications network.

"It may be complicated by the Civil Service here, but I suspect that most people who-ve survived in the Civil Service here have learned how to use the system - how to deal with people specifically."

What qualified Bolles for his present job, and for writing a book about job-hunting?

Very simple," he says, "I was fired."

Fired from his job as pastor of a San Francisco congregation in 1968, to be exact, because of what he describes as "politics." ("There's politics in any job," he notes ruefully, "even in the church.)

But in job-hunting for his next job he started examining the whole process. And when he joined up with United Ministries, he set out to write a pamphlet to help unemployed college ministers.

He travel all over the country doing research on how to job-hunt, and by the time he was done, he says, "instead of a 32-page pamhlet, I had a 231-page book.' The title "doesn't mean anything," he adds, other than that he was thinking of "bailing out."

He figured he was on to something when not only clerics responded, "but orders started coming in from people at General Electric, the Pentagon, the State Department - every kind of public you can think of."

Bolles says that "polls are always coming out with findings that 80 percent of people like their work. I thoroughly disbelieve that."

Compared to even a decade ago, Bolles says, "people today have become more critical of their jobs. They expect more and are more willing to leave their job if it doesn't measure up." He attributes this partly to peoples' growing tendency to look inward partly to the increased imphasis on "feeling good," and partly to "the replacement philosopy of our technological society: We're trained to replace rather than repair, and I think this carries over to relationships and jobs as well as things."

Is Bolles happyin his own job?