They warned him not to mention it, but Richard Bolles would not be deterred.

As 600 futurists stared through pitch-blackness in the Hyatt Regency ballroom yesterday morning, America's career-counseling guru grabbed a fat chunk of fluorescent orange chalk and wrote two words under the ultraviolet light of his special glow-in-the-dark easel:

NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST

"Futurists aren't always pleased to discuss this subject," the 56-year-old best-selling author of "What Color is Your Parachute" told participants in the World Future Society's two-day conference on "Working Now and in the Future."

"But people are terrified by the fear that all planning about the future is senseless, and all talk about things going from better to better is useless poppycock."

Why talk about finding meaning in jobs of the future, said the former Episcopalian priest, when "80 percent of the people who are working now feel they can't find what they want out of work."

Few of the forward-thinking people who came from around the country to try to figure out what's going to happen next seemed to share Bolles' concern about the future of the future itself.

Instead they dove into discussions like "New Occupations for the Year 2000 and Beyond" and "Human-Computer Interface," and watched a screening of the re'sume' of tomorrow--"the audio-visual portfolio."

For all its "future shock" overtones, the conference attracted a conservative-looking group of three-piece-suited business-card swappers--with the occasional running-shoe-clad executive from California. Most appeared to be between 30 and 60, with job titles like "corporate strategic planner" and "human resources consultant" and "career development specialist."

The only hint that this was, in fact, a group of contemporary crystal-ball gazers was their fluency in a sort of pre-1984 newspeak. Favorite words: "heuristic," "delimit" and "paradigm."

And--just as the conference planners had predicted--some seemed less than pleased with Bolles' message that "the future is now."

"Too past-oriented," sniffed a Rockville career counselor.

"What do you expect," replied the head of a Los Angeles executive search firm. "He's a humanist."

Hundreds of people write to "Coralee's Cottage" every day to find out how the 50-year-old divorced mother of two runs a business that grosses six-figures without leaving her apartment.

"Who am I," shrugs Coralee Smith Kern, "but a lady who cleans toilets in Chicago?"

She is also a pioneer of the workstyle of the future--"the electronic cottage"--a "third wave" word for "using computers in some way to produce a good or service out of your home." Kern started her Maid-to--Order, Inc. cleaning and party service 12 years ago when she was diagnosed with lupus and ordered to stay in bed. "But I had two children to feed," she says. "So for the first 10 months I ran the show from my bedroom."

Today she runs the business from a "work apartment" adjacent to her "living apartment." She employs 460 people, works about 42 hours a week and makes an amount of money she will describe only as "a lot." After several talk show appearances prompted "an avalanche" of mail, Kern started publishing the "Mind Your Own Business At Home" newsletter (circulation 35,000) early last year and in April founded the nonprofit National Association for the Cottage Industry and "Cottage Connection" newsletter.

Most of us, she predicts, will one day start work simply by switching on a button at home. Some will be "tele-commuters" who are linked via computer to a central employer, some may gather at a neighborhood "workstead"--"you know, like a homestead"--and others may simply plug into their own, self-sufficient cottage.

"We hear from so many job displacement victims, parents of small children and handicapped people," she says, "who see a home occupation as the best solution. It's so practical. You save on commuting, clothes, child care. And crime has definitely gone down in areas where people work at home."

But cottage life is not all peaches and cream cheese, she admits. "The big concerns now are zoning, licensing and labor laws. It's illegal in some places to be a Mary Kay lady, but many legislators are sympathetic to changing the laws."

Some fear the emergence of "electronic sweatshops" crammed with pale, wide-eyed whiz kids slaving over hot keyboards. "Feminists fear that, unless we guard against it," she said, "women will be shucking the peas, rocking the cradle and working the word processor all at once."

Bad news for tea tasters. They are one of the "out" careers, say the futurists. Among the brave new fields they predict for tomorrow's "help wanted" listings:

Bionic-Electronic Technicians, to manufacture brain-wave activated body parts for people who need a hand, foot or other assorted appendages.

Truffle Farmers, to cultivate the world's costliest vegetable (about $50 each), which can now be scientifically grown rather than just rooted out by truffle-sniffing pigs.

Geriatric Social Workers, to care for America's graying population.

Erotic Boutique Owners, to meet increased demand for edible underwear, adult greeting cards, gold lame' G-strings and other X-rated froufrou.

Holographic Inspection Specialists, to maintain sophisticated optical computers.

Brain Food Store Operators, to service machines dispensing mind-improving drugs in schools and elsewhere.

Want big money? "Entertainers and professional athletes will be made America's richest people by cable television in the years ahead," write Marvin Cetron and Thomas O'Toole in an article in "Careers Tomorrow," an anthology prepared specifically for the conference. "If you want to grow up to be rich, be a baseball player."

If there were a machine that would tell you when you were going to die, would you want to know?

When Washington career counselor Norman Feingold asks people that question as part of his "exercises in future thinking" he says, "very few people say yes."

Since "the one constant is change," Feingold poses problems to "get people to stretch their imagination about the possible" including:

Would you swallow a pill that allows you to go without sleep? "Not many people would."

Do you think there will be a woman president by the year 2000? "Kids--boys and girls--usually say yes . . . adults aren't so sure."

Would you want to live to be 150 if you were guaranteed good health? "It surprises me that a lot of people say no. I guess that says something about the quality of life."

Among tomorrow's "smart machines":

Lexicons. "Currently about 6,000 word lexicons--machines that type directly from speech--are in use," says The Futurist magazine. "In addition, it can translate the material into nine languages, including Hebrew, which it types backwards and Japanese kanji symbols, which it types sideways."

Intelligent Telephones. (At last!) "They will," says Careers Tomorrow, "have the capability to look ahead for busy phones; put a 'do not disturb' on a phone; make collect, third party and credit card calls without operator assistance and screen calls so that only those from specified numbers can come through."

At age 77--"I'll be 78 if I live to Christmas"--Pauline Applebaum has heard a lifetime of futuristic predictions. A former schoolteacher and businesswoman from Texas who attended the conference because "I like new ideas," she was skeptical about just how many would actually come true.

"It's just like that damn stock market," she said, patting her neat white bun. "You think you've got it all figured out and, poof, something unexpected comes along and changes everything."

"Confidentially," a strategic planner told a communications consultant over white wine at the opening reception, "I'm not so sure I really want to know what's going to happen.

"It's like that song, 'Anticipation.' For me the fun is the quest. I think it's better to travel joyfully than to arrive."