When the American Economic Association opens its annual conference here Friday, the CIA will be operating out of a convenient hotel suite, waiting for a knock on the door.

The nation may be in the grips of a recession, but recruiters at Langley still have jobs to fill, especially for economists. They want experts in macro and micro theory, international economics, agricultural finance, transportation economics, monetary theory and several other tricky subjects including, of course, "economic fluctuations."

Chances are that even more such jobs will be available at the CIA next year. With the Cold War at an end, economics is a growth industry in the intelligence community, formally embraced by President Bush last March in his annual National Security Strategy statement.

It is only one of a long list of openings that the CIA regularly seeks to fill through public advertisements. Among positions that the agency's recruiters periodically promote are government contract auditors ("CIA . . . Where America counts on your career"), mathematical statisticians ("CIA . . . Where you can make a vital contribution") and communications specialists ("The CIA . . . your chance to tune in to an overseas career").

"We advertise all the time -- in newspapers, in magazines and on campuses," said Gertie L. Starks, chief of the CIA's recruitment division. "We're also looking for engineers, computer scientists, linguists, medical people, nurses, minorities of any background."

Some of the want ads prompt a double take.

One invites teachers to think of signing up as a Clandestine Service operations officer because, the fine print explains, "the same skills you have employed in a teaching career . . . your ability to manage people and groups, your instruction, training and organizational skills, your rapid evaluation of information and events -- all these are the skills of personnel in the Clandestine Service."

"Psychophysiologists" are the target of another CIA promotion. Trained in the study of interactions between mental and physiological processes, they are needed, the ad says, "to develop new concepts and techniques for detection of deception."

Ads are not the only tool. The CIA participates in cooperative programs with almost 100 colleges and universities that allow students to work at the agency for three academic terms, picking up pay and, typically, college credits for their work.

"We have students at just about every division, doing all the jobs we have full-timers for -- engineers, accountants, editors, everything," Starks said.

They are paid according to how much schooling they have. For instance, said David Overton, senior adviser for economics in the CIA's Intelligence Directorate, "an entry-level analyst at CIA is a GS-7. So if you're a sophomore, you might be paid as a GS-5. And if you're a junior, a GS-6. Most of the students, unless they live high on the hog, make enough to bring something back with them."

Visits to college campuses are another customary device and, yes, officials said, they can still touch off demonstrations. "There is a lot of left-wing agitation at some campuses," Overton said. At some, he acknowledged, protesting against the CIA has become a tradition. He declined to name the schools but said, "I have been on about half a dozen campuses where it got quite ugly" in recent years.

Despite that, Starks said, "the number of applicants or expressions of interest we get each year is enormous." In addition to campuses, the CIA's 25 professional recruiters nationwide, supplemented by officials from the different directorates at Langley (Science and Technology, Operations, Intelligence, and Administration), seek prospects at job fairs, career fairs and all sorts of professional meetings.

One recent ad, for radio operators and communications specialists, was aimed at those attending a "Hamvention" in Dayton, Ohio.

One of the biggest problems of the CIA's recruiting drives, officials said, is the time an applicant must wait. Few are chosen. But even for those who are, because of all the necessary checks and reviews, it usually takes nine to 12 months from the time that a qualified job-seeker completes an eight-hour aptitude test and fills out the 34-page job application to the day he or she begins work.

"When an application gets here, there are expediters -- security and medical people -- who screen it to see if there's anything wrong," Starks said. "If it gets past that, we send it out to the directorates, asking if they want to interview the person. If no one does, the application is rejected."

After an interview, however, if the agency wants the person, "we put in for medical and polygraph tests. Then comes the background check."

If you are a clerical worker who lives in the Washington area, the process takes about three months, Starks said. But if you have lived overseas in different places, it can take much longer.

The concentrated drive for more economists began last April, shortly after Bush's strategy statement on intelligence programs, assigning "new importance" to economic questions within the communist world and calling for "a new emphasis on broader global economic and trade issues," in the interests of keeping the United States competitive.

CIA Director William H. Webster had been sounding the tocsin in speeches calling economic strength the "key to global influence and power."

The agency responded by launching an unprecedented "blitz" of advertisements in half a dozen newspapers -- a campaign repeated in July.

"We have always had the largest contingent in the U.S. government of people doing economic analysis," Overton said. "The Treasury Department's effort in this area is much smaller than ours. We're adding at the margin to a staff already big to begin with."

Most of the agency's economists work in the Intelligence Directorate, Overton said. In addition, according to another U.S. intelligence official, the CIA has had representatives at the Commerce and Treasury departments and a close relationship with the Office of Trade Representative for more than a decade.

"We've been involved in GATT and every trade negotiation I know of," said this official, who asked not to be named. "We take tasks from U.S. negotiators to find out about the {other countries'} positions. We usually have someone who's right there, or within cable reach. We review other countries' proposals against econometric models. We tell our negotiators, 'Here's what the other side left out or is holding back.' "

The CIA won't say how many more economists are to be hired, but the search continues. The agency has used the American Economic Association's annual meetings as a hunting ground for years, using an AEA periodical, "Job Openings for Economists," to list desired specialities.

The ad in this month's issue is sandwiched in between blurbs for the Center for Naval Analyses ("not a government agency") and the Chung Hua Institution for Economic Research in Taipei.

Interested economists at the meetings of the AEA and allied organizations, which are to start here Friday, can look up a code number for the CIA in a directory, fill out a card with their names and other pertinent information, walk up to a wall with post-office-type boxes and pop their cards into the one bearing the CIA's number.

The CIA takes it from there, periodically picking up the cards from the other side of the wall and calling prospects to make an appointment. The job-seekers will be interviewed discreetly in a suite upstairs.

"We won't have a booth," Overton said, "primarily because of the sensitivities of those being interviewed."