Outplacement -- a service provided primarily by large employers to help laid-off employees find new jobs -- is thriving, following a rash of plant consolidations and work reductions nationwide. But it is not only employees who are benefiting from this service. Enterprising small companies that take the trouble to plug into these corporate outplacement centers can find a rich source of reasoned, professional job candidates -- without having to pay heavy recruitment costs.

For some of those out of work, the idea of joining a small business can be especially appealing, says Russ Creason, a Detroit-based outplacement consultant. "These [job candidates] see the potential for more professional freedom and a chance to get away from the politics and structure of a larger company." Moreover, adds Creason, if a small company is a supplier to a large corporation, or wants to be one, "signing up one of their former employees makes good sense."

Outplacement centers typically offer job-hunting advice and, in some cases, line up interviews with prospective employers. At no cost, small companies can list their employment openings with the centers and attend company-sponsored job fairs.

A layoff at Honeywell Inc.'s small-computer division in Billerica, Mass., last spring, for example, inspired Dennis Robichaud to contact Honeywell's outplacement service. Robichaud, a senior electronics engineer at Prospective Computer Analysts Inc., in Bedford, Mass., listed openings for two engineering jobs at his engineering consulting firm. By doing so, he figures he has already saved $6,000, the amount he would normally pay to an executive search firm. "We then have the option of offering a higher salary" to desirable candidates, Robichaud says. "That gives us, as a small company, an edge over the rest of the market."