University of Maryland senior Eric Most came out of his 12th job interview with a confident smile.

"He wants me for sure," said the 23-year-old computer science major from Potomac. "He gave me a price range. When they do that, you know they want you."

Elsewhere in the university's Career Development Center, marketing senior Sue von Paris, 21, of Phoenix, Md., was starting her job hunt, paging through lists of corporate recruiters due on the College Park campus.

She said she was a bit nervous about the process of finding a job in sales but expressed optimism that she would find one by her August graduation. "I have a lot of self confidence, and I have experience," she said.

With May commencement near, the job search is in full gear for many of the University of Maryland's 3,060 graduating seniors and 560 graduate students, along with college seniors nationwide. For some, job hunting will be postponed as they continue their studies or join the military.

The job market the students are entering is tight, as many companies have dampened their hiring because of the economic slump, campus placement officers report. "There's a lot more competition for the job," noted Martha Patton, assistant director of the career center, who has guided Maryland students in their job hunts for 25 years.

But the placement officers interviewed were optimistic that most of Maryland's graduates would find jobs, partly because of the predicted upturn in the economy, although they did not make outright predictions.

"Companies are taking longer to hire, but the jobs are out there," said Leslie Paddock, the placement director for MBA students.

Other job market predictions are not so rosy. Northwestern University's Endicott Report, a survey of 251 large and medium-size companies, predicted that hiring of bachelor's degree graduates as a whole would be down 11 percent this year, and would dip 2 percent for master's degree holders.

Students who do find jobs, the report said, can expect higher starting salaries: an average of $18,264 for liberal arts majors, $25,800 for holders of bachelor's degrees in engineering and $26,676 for MBAs.

Maryland students are aided in their job hunt by the university's career center and by mostly informal counseling through individual schools or departments. Paddock was hired last August to help MBA students after officials of the College of Business and Management became dissatisfied with their informal placement efforts, said Mary Anne Waikart, the college's master's programs director.

At the career center, a library staffed by counselors offers students materials to help direct their job searches, such as videotapes on how to write a resume and what to expect in interviews and books describing companies and what jobs they offer.

Bulletin boards are papered with posters giving job tips and companies' notices promoting the firms and their job opportunities, along with flyers touting Floridian and Caribbean beaches for spring break vacations.

The library is targeted to help primarily the university's liberal arts majors. "Liberal arts are generally people who have to find jobs for themselves," Patton said. Students with business-related majors and in "high-tech areas are what recruiters are looking for."

Last fall, the center began storing data on students in a computer so that recruiters could be provided with lists of potential employes, based on majors or career interests. About 1,100 student profiles are on file, Patton said. In addition, some schools print students' resumes in a book that they mail to employers.

Typically, 1,500 to 1,600 students each year turn to the career center to find jobs through interviews with recruiters; 1,100 students went through interviews last fall alone, Patton said. Interviews generally led to jobs for 12 to 15 percent of the students, she said.

This year, 650 to 700 recruiters are expected to visit Maryland, compared with 650 last year and more than 700 in 1981, Patton said. About 30 more firms will interview only MBAs. The sour economy has prompted some firms to cancel their traditional visits, particularly those in the oil and chemical industries, she said.

Electrical engineering and accounting majors appear to face the brightest prospects of finding jobs this year, while civil and chemical engineering students are encountering rough times, Patton said. For MBA students, those majoring in information systems management, finance and accounting are in demand, but personnel majors are not, Paddock said.

The demand for information systems majors may bode well for Judith Cucco, 31, of Silver Spring, an MBA student who wants a consultant or sales job in that field. She said she has received "positive feedback" from a job interview and from other contacts with potential employers.

But she said she plans to be selective in finding a job. "It's more a matter of finding what I want," explained Cucco, who previously spent 7 1/2 years as a teacher in Montgomery County. "Anybody could go out and find job, but it's a matter of finding a job you want . . . .

"Before you go searching for a job, you have to look at yourself and see what your needs are and then find a job to meet those needs."

Computer science major Most also plans to be choosy in picking an employer. He said the on-campus recruiting process is as much a chance for students to look over employers as it is for the firms to review the graduates. "I look for the things that interest me: promotion, benefits, the amount of politics," said Most, wearing a gray, woolen three-piece suit as he awaited his 12th interview.

Of his interviews, he said he has received "two or three quasi-offers" of a job. But he noted: "I won't say I've got a job until I've got one."

After 11 interviews, mechanical engineering senior Paul Biegel, 22, of Chevy Chase, has received one offer. He said he will decide on the offer after checking other possible employers and other considerations.

The job hunt is hard work, he said. "This is like a three-credit class but without the credit," Biegel said. "The reward is at the end, but there's a lot of work in looking for a job. My father's on my back to work hard at this, and I am."

Donna Fulcomer, 21, of Olney, a computer science major, said she is hard at work writing her resume, which she hopes will land her a job as a computer programmer.

"I think I will find a job by the time I graduate in May ," she said after interviewing with a computer software company. "I think there are jobs out there for programmers. I have a high grade point average. I don't have that much experience, but I think there's a need for programmers."

Journalism senior Bryan K. Morris, 23, of New Carrollton, is just getting his job search under way, starting by attending a publishers' convention and trying to make contacts. "The old saying is, if you can get your foot in the door . . . ," he said.

Although he said he is confident he eventually will be hired as a reporter on a daily newspaper, he's disheartened that in the past two years several metropolitan newspapers have folded or merged with competitors.

"It makes me wonder if I can make a career in this field, if I have to get out after four to five years and make a career in something else, like public relations," Morris said.

With students' academic careers nearly over, jobs and how to get them have become hot topics on the Maryland campus.

"Basically, it seems that . . . we all talk with one another about it," von Paris said. "You ask, 'Who are you signing up with? When is your interview? Did you get to interview with the company you wanted?' "

Among MBA students, at least 72 of whom will graduate in May, word of a job offer "takes less than a day to spread through the grapevine," Cucco said. ". . . We compare notes and help each other out. There's no cutthroat competition."

The university's placement counselors say their advice to job-hungry students is to start their searches early and not to give up.

"It is a tight year, highly competitive," Patton said. "The best advice is to keep plugging away. If a student needs to take a temporary job, fine. Some students will have to do that."