Executive Search with Marissa Karras, Karras Consulting

Posted on July 15, 2013

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Our Take

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The ELGL “Executive Search” feature gives you an inside look into the world of executive recruitments. The world of executive searches is often misunderstood and carries a veil of secrecy. We hope, through these profiles, the veil will be lifted and you will better understand how to make yourself an attractive candidate for the job that you aspire to.

Karras Consulting is perfectly positioned for the future and for understanding the needs of employers. Dennis Karras, CEO brings 25 years of experience and Marissa Karras, Vice President, brings more than 10 years of experience and an understanding of the “next generation.” In the Portland area, Karras Consulting has worked on several recruitments for Multnomah County including the ongoing recruitment for a director of community services. Many of you may have heard about Karras Consulting through their work in early January 2013 when they were one of the firms tapped to assist Washington Gov. Inslee with filling top level positions.

We appreciate Karras Consulting becoming an ELGL member, and we hope to hear a lot more from Dennis and Marissa as we both work to fill the coming wave of government retirements.


Marissa Karras

Current Position: Vice President, Karras Consulting

Prior Experience: Project Manager, Orblynx, Inc.

Education: University of Washington, B.A., Foster School of Business

Connect: LinkedIn and [email protected]

Connect with Karras Consulting: FacebookTwitter  the Web

Background Check

Marissa has extensive experience in the areas of executive recruitment and compensation. As a project manager for Karras Consulting during the past seven years, she has played a key role in leading executive searches, career transition services, employee counseling and developing compensation strategy. Prior to joining Karras Consulting, she was a public relations and marketing director in the high tech industry. She has also worked in human resources for both the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Marissa is a 1999 graduate of the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

DENNIS KARRAS, SPHR CEO  has more than 25 years of state government executive and legislative experience, including 10 years as the State Director of Personnel under two previous Governors. As a member of their Executive Cabinets, he administered the statewide human resource management system covering approximately 90,000 employees in state agencies, colleges and universities. From 1993 to 2001, he oversaw Washington State’s Executive Search Services providing solutions for public agencies seeking dynamic executive-level leaders. During this time, Executive Search Services successfully placed over 300 executives in state and local government, higher education, and boards and commissions. Dennis was deeply involved in the creating and establishment of Washington State’s Career Transition Center which won numerous rewards for its innovative and successful approach to providing transition services to Higher Education and general government employees. Dennis also served more than six years as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for the $1.3 billion Washington State Employees Credit Union, the second largest not-for-profit credit union in Washington State. Dennis has personally conducted more than 200 executive search recruitments during his career. He has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts and a certificate from the University of Michigan’s Graduate School of Business advanced Human Resource Executive Program.

Services offered by Karras Consulting:

  • EXECUTIVE RECRUITING: Our executive search process is far–reaching and thorough, to ensure a candidate will fit in with the requirements and culture of your organization. Our focus—shaped by more than 25 years in the field—is on quality placements. Rather than relying on traditional advertising, we go after candidates we’ve vetted ourselves, through aggressive networking and an extensive candidate database we’ve built from the ground up.
  • COMPENSATION: A competitive total compensation strategy helps us attract and retain knowledgeable employees with the skills and drive to achieve results. A market rate salary system is the foundation of a total compensation package. We determine market rates, write job descriptions, and help you establish external competitiveness while maintaining internal salary alignment and equity.
  • EXECUTIVE COACHING: We provide confidential and effective leadership development, designed to give both single executives and entire senior staffs the tools and insights necessary to grow personally and collectively. We often work simultaneously on individual, organizational and system issues, and are experienced in work–style, personality and 360–degree instruments.
  • EMPLOYEE SURVEYS: We use climate surveys to identify employee satisfaction in workplace, management, benefits, and supervision. Third–party administration ensures confidentiality and provides meaningful results.
  • OTHER SERVICES: We conduct sexual harassment and discrimination investigations, provide outplacement and transition services for at–risk or recently separated workers and mediate disputes between management and employees.

The Interview

Give us your background and how it brought you to your current position.

Karras Consulting is a father/daughter consulting firm located in Olympia, Washington. We are primarily engaged in providing executive search services to elected and appointed officials throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Prior to joining Karras Consulting, I served in human resources for both the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. I also spent several years in the private sector with Orblynx, a high-tech company on the east coast.

My dad, Dennis Karras, has more than 25 years of state government executive and legislative experience, including 10 years as the State Director of Personnel under two previous Governors. As a member of their Executive Cabinets, he administered the statewide human resource management system covering approximately 90,000 employees in state agencies, colleges and universities. For the previous 12 years Dennis was the Committee Staff Director for the Washington State House of Representatives’ Non-Partisan Budget, Research and Legal Departments.  Dennis also served more than six years as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for the $1.4 billion Washington State Employees Credit Union, the second largest not-for-profit credit union in Washington State.

For as long as I can remember my dad and I have talked about working together. Before becoming consultants we had “real jobs” and being in management had used several executive search firms. We were finding that the product was not high quality and more often than not, firms would send in their top executives for the sales pitch and their junior members to conduct the actual search.

With my dad retiring and my relocation back to the Pacific Northwest, the timing was perfect. For us, each search is personal. We treat recruitment as if we are hiring for our own company and are both fully engaged throughout the process.

Current recruitmentsimages

  • President and CEO, SAIF Corporation  (Salem, OR)
  • Executive Director, Puget Sound Regional Council (Seattle, WA)
  • Director of Community Services, Multnomah County (Portland, OR)
  • Parks and Recreation Director, Pierce County (Tacoma, WA)
  • Assistant Director of Local Government and Infrastructure, WA State Department of Commerce (Olympia, WA)
  • Parks, Arts and Recreation Director, City of Olympia (Olympia, WA)
  • Assistant State Director of Human Resources, Washington State (Olympia, WA)

Your recent recruitments

  • Secretary, Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Director, Washington State Department of Ecology
  • Secretary, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
  • Commissioner, Washington State Department of Employment Security
  • Director, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries
  • Director of Emergency Management, Multnomah County
  • Director, Washington State Health Care Authority
  • Business Resource Center Director, King County
  • Director of Human Resources, Pierce County
  • CFO, Washington State Employment Security Department
  • Deputy Chief Technology Officer, City of Seattle
  • Executive Director, Washington State Council of Presidents
  • Chief Economist, Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council
  • President, Bates Technical College
  • Executive Director, Washington State Wine Commission
  • Executive Director, Washington State Public Disclosure Commission
  • Executive Director, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency
  • Executive Director, Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board
  • Executive Director, Tacoma-Pierce County Employment And Training Consortium
  • Director, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department
  • Legislative Auditor, Joint Legislative Audit And Review Committee
  • Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Multnomah County
  • City Manager, City of Mill Creek
  • Prevention Division Director, Seattle & King County Public Health
  • Pierce County Government Relations Manger
  • Director of Solid Waste, King County Department of Parks and Natural Resources
  • Executive Director, Lodi Winegrape Commission
  • Planning and Land Services Director, Pierce County
  • Director of Human Resources, City of Seattle
  • Director of Budget and Finance, Pierce County
  • Human Resources Director, Sound Transit
  • Emergency Medical Services Director, Seattle King County Public Health
  • Community Connections Director, Pierce County
  • Director of Air Quality Programs, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency
  • Assistant Director, Community Services, Washington State Department Of Commerce
  • Director of Community Partnerships and Communication, Seattle & King County Public Health
  • Chief of Assessment, Policy Development and Evaluation, Seattle & King County Public Health
  • Director of Performance Measurement, Puget Sound Health Alliance
  • Director of Information Technology, Pierce County
  • Chief Medical Examiner, Pierce County
  • Design and Construction Manager, King County METRO

Give us three benefits of outsourcing recruitment of a high level position.

Transparency in the hiring process: In recent months there has been quite a bit of attention by the media in Oregon on having open and transparent hiring processes. Using an executive search firm brings objectivity and an outside perspective to the process.

More qualified candidates: While most local jurisdictions have HR professionals on hand who can perform recruiting functions, an executive search firm has the advantage of conducting high level, visible searches on a regular basis. As a result, we have a broad candidate repository, consisting of a viable pool of more than 2,000 highly qualified and successful public and private sector executives.

More time devoted to the search: An executive search requires hundreds of hours of work and outsourcing recruitments allows an organization to keep their staff focused on the business of running the organization rather than devoting much needed time and energy to recruiting. We work exclusively with public sector clients and have more than 25 years of experience providing executive search services. Rather than splitting our focus, we keep it strictly on government. We devote full energy to providing our state and local government clients with specialized expertise, tailored to the demands of the public sector.

Your firm was tapped for several recruitments for the new Washington governor. Talk about those recruitments and how you became involved. Result?

There were a number of firms that were contacted and interviewed by then Governor-Elect Inslee’s staff. Karras Consulting was selected to conduct the recruitment and selection of his top cabinet agency directors to include the Secretaries of the Department of Transportation and Department of Health, Directors of the Departments of Social and Health Services, Labor and Industries, Health, Employment Security, Health Care Authority, Information Technology and others.

It was a little like drinking from the fire hose. The typical timeframe for an executive search project is 90-110 days and many of these recruitments were being done in 14 days. We worked closely with Governor Inslee and his transition team as well as stakeholders throughout the process to seek out the best talent to bring change and innovation to the State.

Give us three insider tips for improving our marketability.

One of the key things that you can do to advance your job search is to become more appealing to employers who are busy sifting through hundreds of applications from qualified people. By showing that your job skills are the most up-to-date and easy-to-see, you make it simpler for these people to think about hiring you.

A well-constructed resume: You have one shot to give employers a picture of your knowledge, skills and experience – so make it count. Search online for sample resumes or purchase a book to assist you in constructing your resume. Be sure you list your employment history in chronological order with clear dates and company information. Include specifics about staff size managed and budget responsibility as well as examples of accomplishments. Keep it concise yet compelling.

Think global, act local: It’s important to be aware and knowledgeable of the forces affecting organizations and your profession from all corners of the world. At the same time, it is critical to be up to date and have a strong understanding of the local issues and pressures facing organizations.

Build your own “brand:” Visibility and name recognition are powerful for career advancement. Your online presence — through sites such as LinkedIn — is now becoming as important as your resume. A strong, professional presence across social media will give you clout within your present and prospective organizations.

Describe the current job market on the local and state level. Improving? Stagnant?

I would describe the current job market as improving. In high-level positions we are seeing a lot of retirements due to the aging workforce.

ELGL is hosting its inaugural conference next October. Give us three recommendations for speakers or topics.


The Role of HR as a Strategic Business Leader and Partner  – The reality is many HR departments are not providing services to make a major strategic impact for the organization. You could bring in a panel of progressive public sector HR Directors to talk about how they are bringing a fresh approach and how they do “strategic HR.” There has been a shift from tactical to strategic in order create a meaningful HR strategy and plan aligned and integrated with business initiatives. The panel could discuss ways to increase capabilities, improve service delivery, and increase the value of HR deliverables and services.


Duane Knapp – Branding in the Public Sector

What are the toughest positions to recruit for?

The toughest management positions to recruit for in government are in information technology mainly because the salaries in government are so much lower than their private sector counterparts. We have also conducted several tough recruitments in the public health field where our clients have needed a physician with an MPH and significant management experience.

Give us your strangest recruitment story.

I cannot think of an example of a “strange” recruitment but maybe a “fun” recruitment story will suffice. As a result of conducting the recruitment for the Washington State Wine Commission Executive Director, we were subsequently hired by several California winegrape growing boards and commissions to conduct their Executive Director searches. Of course the subject matter was intriguing, so while we typically do not take jobs that require traveling outside the region we decided to take this on! We found the industry to be fascinating. These boards were made up of growers, many of whom were 3rd or 4th generation farmers. They would come to our meetings straight out of the fields, with their boots on, covered in dirt from head to toe. We called them “famers with leer jets” and very much enjoyed their banter and no-nonsense style. Sampling their product was definitely a benefit!

Lighting Round

Ultimate mix tape:

Well as a product of the 90’s my ultimate mix tape would have to include: Pearl Jam, The Cranberries, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Sublime, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, Blind Melon and Beastie Boys. 


(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….

take my family to Psara which is a very small island on the western side of Greece where my grandfather grew up and my grandparents returned to live after retirement.

Favorite TV show:


Pretty much any HBO or Showtime series…….enjoyed the Game of Thrones series. I had read the books so I was not as shocked by some of the episodes as my husband was!

Dream job as a child:

Veterinarian…that is until we had my cat put to sleep by the local vet.

Book you are currently reading:

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard which is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s exploration of the Amazon river.

Describe the inside of your car:

Prior to having young children it looked like the Taj Mahal and now it looks more like the aftermath of a tornado.

What’s the meaning of life?

For me it is family. Also, laughter. You should never take yourself too seriously.

Supplemental Reading

Previous Executive Search Profiles


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