Stocks were little changed on Friday following a three-day rally after more jobs were created than expected in September, helping to ease concerns the economy was heading back into recession.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 103,000, while economists expected 60,000, and the unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent, The government report also showed 99,000 more jobs added in July and August than initially reported.

While the report was not as strong as many investors wanted, it corroborated other mildly improved economic data that have helped to ease fears the global economy was weakening.

This is critical, this is the most important data that we have seen this cycle, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. This is going to get people's attention.

This confirms that most of the negativity we have seen in the market is derived from the market itself and not the data, he said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 42.12 points, or 0.38 percent, to 11,165.45. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> dropped 0.78 points, or 0.07 percent, to 1,164.19. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> fell 10.09 points, or 0.40 percent, to 2,496.73.

Employment-related stocks benefited from the report. Shares of Monster Worldwide Inc , a jobs website, edged up 0.7 percent to $8.11 after jumping as high as $8.35. The Dow Jones business training and employment index <.DJUSBE> added 0.7 percent.

From a technical perspective, the S&P 500 remained in a downtrend. The index has been trapped in a range in the past few months, deteriorating into lower lows. The index's wide range is seen from about 1,100 to 1,250.

Analysts see the next important resistance level for the S&P 500 at 1,180, the index's 50-day moving average.

Investors will stay focused on Europe. Optimism the region was ramping up efforts to resolve its sovereign debt crisis helped drive a 6 percent rally in the S&P 500 over the last three sessions.

Germany and France were split ahead of crucial summit talks on Sunday over how to strengthen shaky European banks and fight financial market contagion to prepare for a possible Greek default, diplomats said Friday.

On Thursday. the European Central Bank said it was ready to buy bonds to provide longer-term cheap money for European lenders in need of funding.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)