The Alexandria City Council met yesterday in closed session to discuss for the first time the credentials of candidates applying for the job of city manager.

But after a three-hour discussion with Chicago management consultant Paul A. Reume, none of the seven council members would say how many administrators have applied for the $75,000-a-year job or when they expect to pick a new manager. The job was vacated Feb. 26 when Douglas Harman resigned to become city manager of Fort Worth.

"We decided not to say anything," Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said as he emerged from the council work room. "Nothing at all."

Acting City Manager Vola T. Lawson, who replaced Harman, is considered a strong candidate, and possibly the frontrunner, according to city officials and staff.

Lawson, 50, formerly assistant city manager for housing, is well known in the community where she has been active for almost 25 years. But because she is perceived as being strongly interested in human needs, having been mostly involved in housing, women's and minority issues, the business community has expressed some reluctance about her permanent appointment.

Some business leaders say the city government is Alexandria's biggest business and the city needs, more than anything else, an experienced fiscal manager.