Blog written by recruiter Koreena Geisler-Wagner.
Marc Cenedella’s article “Even a Genius Has to Sell Himself… The Resume of Leonardo da Vinci” featured this letter, addressed to Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, from Leonardo da Vinci. It is, in essence, da Vinci’s resume (c. 1482). What more can this great mind possibly have to offer us centuries later? Tools and technological advancements aside, da Vinci offers us a look at the “do’s” and “do not’s” of marketing oneself to a prospective employer.
The article offers a translation, reproduced below, of the letter:
Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.
1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.
2. I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.
3. If, by reason of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place and its position, it is impossible, when besieging a place, to avail oneself of the plan of bombardment, I have methods for destroying every rock or other fortress, even if it were founded on a rock, etc.
4. Again, I have kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with these I can fling small stones almost resembling a storm; and with the smoke of these cause great terror to the enemy, to his great detriment and confusion.
5. And if the fight should be at sea I have kinds of many machines most efficient for offense and defense; and vessels which will resist the attack of the largest guns and powder and fumes.
6. I have means by secret and tortuous mines and ways, made without noise, to reach a designated spot, even if it were needed to pass under a trench or a river.
7. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.
8. In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance of fine and useful forms, out of the common type.
9. Where the operation of bombardment might fail, I would contrive catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvellous efficacy and not in common use. And in short, according to the variety of cases, I can contrive various and endless means of offense and defense.
10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.
11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may. Again, the bronze horse may be taken in hand, which is to be to the immortal glory and eternal honor of the prince your father of happy memory, and of the illustrious house of Sforza. And if any of the above-named things seem to anyone to be impossible or not feasible, I am most ready to make the experiment in your park, or in whatever place may please your Excellency – to whom I comment myself with the utmost humility, etc.
As the article rightly points out, the most noticeable aspect of da Vinci’s “resume” is the fact that he does not waste ink and paper space writing about his past achievements– this is not a letter in which he brags about his past, assuming the Duke will read and deconstruct da Vinci’s skills and capabilities to see how they might service his specific needs. Rather, da Vinci clearly spells out, in a numbered list, exactly how his skills and capabilities can best serve the Duke’s requirements. He even showed himself capable of performing in two starkly contrasted (and equally likely) environments: times of peace and times of war.
When marketing yourself to potential employers, it’s best to view things from the employers’ perspective: they are looking for a great candidate who can add value to their specific organization. They don’t need another person to tell them about all their great accomplishments with other companies; they don’t need yet another candidate who can list off every skill, position, and job description already spelled out on their resume. They do need someone who can explicitly outline how their skills and abilities translate to the position for which they are interviewing, and how they can add value to the organization. Leonardo da Vinci listed 11 detailed ways he could improve the Duke’s warfare, tactical methods, urban space, and infrastructure.
Each resume and cover letter you send to a prospective employer should be tailored to that employer’s and company’s researched needs; it is not in your best interest to create an ode to yourself.