The FBI has launched a nationwide manhunt for 1,300 people.

They are wanted not for arrest, but for hire.

For the first time in its 76-year history, the law enforcement agency has opened a recruiting office and hung out a sign that says, "FBI Career Center."

Plans to hire 1,300 special agents in fiscal 1986 -- a 16 percent increase in a nationwide staff of 8,200 agents -- have made recruiting a top priority of the agency, according to John J. O'Connor, special agent in charge of the Northern Virginia office. So the FBI opened a special office in Old Town Alexandria.

And although getting enough applicants has not been a problem so far -- 12,000 applied for 672 new agent positions last year -- winnowing through the burgeoning volume of applications to find just the right people has been. "We hope it the new office not only makes it easier to shift through the piles of applicants, but attracts professionals who ordinarily wouldn't think of a career with the FBI," James E. Mull, special agent and Northern Virginia applicant coordinator, said yesterday.

Broader jurisdiction and increasingly complex and time-consuming crimes were the major reasons cited for what Mull said he believes will be the largest single increase in agent manpower in FBI history.

In 1982, the attorney general authorized the FBI to help the Drug Enforcement Administration investigate narcotics violations. However, the FBI has not had enough specialized manpower to combat the growing drug trafficking problem, said Sean McWeeney, chief of the organized crime division.

As drug trafficking, computer fraud and foreign counterintelligence crime become more widespread and increasingly sophisticated, Mull says, the FBI is "selectively targeting" applicants with specialized degrees such as law, science, accounting and languages.

The FBI still plans to recruit agents "from all walks of life" and from "all over the country," said John Duffy, the FBI personnel officer. He said the bureau will continue to assign agents to give lectures to professional associations and college audiences, the main thrust of its past recruitment.

Duffy said that, in addition to interviewing prospective agents, the new Virginia office will be used to recruit support staff, such as clerks, fingerprint examiners and computer specialists, for the FBI office in the District. The idea of a recruiting center may be duplicated in other regions if it is successful in Alexandria, he said.

Of the 666 new FBI agents hired in 1983, 137 were attorneys, 112 were accountants, 17 had advanced science degrees, 43 spoke at least one foreign language fluently and the rest had completed at least four years of college and had three years of full-time work experience, according to FBI figures. An increasing number of applicants for the job, which has a starting salary of $29,000, have advanced degrees, Duffy said.

He speculated that a job that might require the stakeout of a labor racketeering group one month and the systematic hunt for a foreign spy the next is a potent drawing card for professionals who find themselves too restless to stay in a desk or laboratory job.