U.S. employers posted the most open jobs in eight months in March, but total hiring slowed, providing a mixed picture of the labor market.

Job openings jumped 2.7 percent to 5.76 million, the most since September, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That may point to better hiring in the coming months. The number of available jobs rose in manufacturing; professional and business services, which includes engineering and management consulting; and government.

Yet hiring slowed to 5.3 million from 5.5 million. That suggests employers became more reluctant to fill open positions, possibly because of slower economic growth from October through March.

The drop in hiring echoes a pullback that was reported last week, when the government said net hiring slowed in April. Yet the increase in job openings suggests that job gains could pick up again in the coming months.

On Friday, the government reported that job gains slowed to 160,000 in April, down from an average of 232,000 in the previous 12 months.

Tuesday's figures track total hiring and come from a report known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS. The monthly jobs report released last week calculates a net total of job gains after subtracting those who quit, retired or were laid off.

Hiring stayed healthy throughout the final three months of last year and this year's first quarter, even as the economy faltered. It expanded at just a 1 percent annual pace from October through March.

The March JOLTS data also provides a preview of some trends that were apparent in April's jobs report.

For example, job openings and total hiring in the retail industry fell sharply in March, but so did layoffs in the industry. That meant that the net job gain in retail in March was 39,000.

But the fall-off in job openings that month presaged April's net hiring figures, when retailers cut 3,100 jobs.

Separately, the number of people quitting their jobs ticked up to nearly 3 million in March, just below a recent peak of 3.1 million in December.

Workers typically quit when they have another job lined up, usually for higher pay. So more quitting is generally a good sign for the economy.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen monitors the hiring and quits figures closely to gauge the job market's health.