Leonardo da Vinci’s Resume

Before he was famous, before he painted the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, before he invented the helicopter, before he drew the most famous image of man, before he was all of these things, Leonardo da Vinci was an artificer, an armorer, a maker of things that go “boom”.

And, like you, he had to put together a resume to get his next gig. So in 1482, at the age of 30, he wrote out a letter and a list of his capabilities and sent it off to Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan.

Well, we at TheLadders.com have tracked down that resume and you can click on the image below to see the full-size version.


The translation of this letter is quite remarkable:

“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.”

What a fantastic piece of personal marketing! There’s none of his famous backwards-mirror writing here — this letter was intended to be read and to persuade.

I’m a hopeless pedantic, so of course I’m going to take this opportunity to let you know what you can learn from Leonardo’s resume…

You’ll notice he doesn’t recite past achievements. He doesn’t mention the painting of the altarpiece for the Chapel of St Bernard; he doesn’t provide a laundry list of past bombs he’s built; he doesn’t cite his prior employment in artist Andrea di Cione’s studio.

No, he does none of these things, because those are about his achievements, and not about the Duke’s needs.

Instead, he sells his prospective employer on what he can do for him.

Now imagine being the Duke of Milan and receiving this magnificent letter / resume from the young wunderkind of Florence. The specific descriptives paint a wonderful picture (that is, if you’re a Renaissance Duke) of siege engines and bombardments and mortars and trench-draining and bridges to defeat the enemy. You can almost imagine the scenes that ran through the Duke’s head as he held this letter in his hands and read through Leonardo da Vinci’s bold statements of capabilities.

I mean, who wouldn’t want “kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; [that] can fling small stones almost resembling a storm“? Sounds pretty enticing.

And that’s exactly what your resume needs to do, too. Not the laundry list / standard bio that talks about you, but the marketing piece that talks about the benefits to your future employer and how you fit into his or her needs and desires.

So it turns out that even 500 years later, this remarkable fellow, Leonardo da Vinci, can even teach us something about the modern job hunt…

What a genius…

UPDATE: Too funny, this has been trans-mutated into a developer’s resume over at YCombinator: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1086527. I wonder if it would work equally well for other professions?

UPDATE 2: Thank you very much for all the great comments and Twitter pick-ups on this blog post about Da Vinci’s resume. Please note — per our agreement with the museum on January 13th, 2010, you must keep the copyright notice on the image and credit them as follows: “Courtesy of Leonardo3 from Hoepli edition 1894-1094 – www.leonardo3.net.”

The museum is doing a fantastic job keeping these wonderful old documents in good shape, so it’s only fair you should give them the credit. Sound reasonable?

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  • It should be written in a polite tone,, and length of resume should not exceed 2-3 pages

  • Resumes are intended for job purpose, or to represent one at some where, No doubt as a painter the fame what he got is remarkable, but as a writer of resume above I can not give him any marks.
  • Nash Tanim
    these tinny details are made with lot of background knowledge. I like it a lot.
    This was a useful post and I think it is rather easy to see from the other
    comments as well that this post is well written and useful. Thank you very
    much. internet marketing blog
  • Fparsay
    I am so touched by this piece of history. The humans that we are! These days the employers and the employees talk in totally different languages. I wonder how they find each other!
  • Paul
    That is a thing of beauty!
  • Bonnimoore
    To: Marc Cenedella
    MarcThank you for posting this document and it's translation.It is both informative and inspiring to mepersonally in my search for the perfect position for me.I appreciate the reminder that appealing to someone else'sneeds rather than the litany of our own achievements is always appropriate!All the best,Bonni Moore
  • My delay in posting this comment is indicative of our current era - more information than I can take in comes to me every day. I filter.
    Most HR and hiring managers don't even read cover letters any more (as I found out last summer when filling in as an HR leader for a small company). How many of us actually read this post in its entirety? Who would read a lengthy cover letter?
    The key is to be compelling and succinct.
    I bemoan the current state of "busy busy busy". I relish reading well-written and compelling pieces like this. I love Mark's weekly missives. Thank you.
  • dpmccain
    As an instructor for a class where soon to be graduates prepare (gasp) for the workforce, I developed an LCD supported lesson using your article and comments re Leonardo da Vinci's résumé. The students were engaged, and contribued enthusiastically. Many took another look at his/her developing résumé to ensure that the focus was what a potential employer needed...not a laundry list of what had been accomplished by the student.

    Thank you!
  • mcenedella
    Thanks DP- I am really pleased to hear that this was useful in teaching your students about how to write a resume. That is very gratifying, indeed!
  • Jeannie Welsch
    The centuries of our distance from Mr. DaVinci seem like milleniums due to industrial and technical advancements. What stands out the most to me is how versatile and rugged he had to be to win the opportunity to pursue his craft of art. How facinating that it is mentioned in the list of attributes as almost a final hobby postscript (albeit a hearty one). Makes me glad I don't have to drain the trenches in my current job.
  • Shant Markarian

    What a brilliant way of putting the context of what all applicants (and sales people for that matter) should be focused on in their resume, their interviews, and their on-the-job efforts.

    Keep up the great work!

    Shant Markarian
    Lee Hecht Harrison
    Washington, DC, Maryland & Virgina
  • Rubecko
    I just forwarded your blog to my daughters who are working on resumes and cover letters even as we speak.
    In response to Stace Rudd and to several others who seem to have missed the point, Leonardo, whose reputation had probably preceded him, offered to back up his abilities and expertise at any time.
  • Jamesfleming
    Great comments and so very timely! While I am fortunate to have a long list of notable accomplishments recognized both Nationally and Internationally within my industry and profession, I really like your point of addressing the future rather than the past in discussions with client prospects. That being said, to Stace Rudd's point, without the testimony and benefit of a proud, proven past...espousing propositions or proposals for a promising future to a prospective client or employer have less credibility. Either way, really enjoyed your reference to Da Vinci and the application of his strategy to your work and your clients/readers challenges and opportunities. Thank-you!!
  • Shows particularly that DaVinci was a 15th Century Myth Buster...
    1) by proving it could be done
    2) by blowing things up... imagine what his experiments must have been like?!
  • mcenedella
    If only they'd had YouTube!!
  • Hweyhwey
    This is really a fantastic / good read.
  • PeterF
    Regardless of any literary license that may or may not have been taken, what a great message. This stands out like a rocket among resume pieces we have all seen and heard. Well done!
  • Skep41
    Ummm...so did he get the gig? Did Lorenzo Di Medici hear his best man Leonardo was going to jump ship? There was one point where Italy got too hot for the genius and he fled to France to build a palace for Katherine Di Medici, who was married to François I. I dont think Leonardo was involved in any great sieges and in this resume was leaning heavily on Archimedes, hoping, probably with good reason, that a thug like Sforza was ignorant of the classics. Is Mark telling us to speculate about what we might do for our egomaniac idiot potential employers in the hopes that we'll be admitted to the circle of self-promoting yes-men and never really have to deliver? Instead of a rain of stones Sforza got a couple of great pictures out of Leonardo. Easier than draining moats and breaching walls any day.
  • bitercat
    It is a cover letter. It wasn't written to the Duke of Milan, but to his regent--the guy with all the power. His name was Lodovico Sforza, a coeval of Lorenzo de' Medici, who didn't use Leonardo. BTW Sforza was not a thug, tho' he sometimes acted like one. He and his siblings were well trained in the classics. His Latin "exam" was supervised by well-known humanist scholars of the day. He wrote his bit on Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars. Since Lodovico Sforza was probably about to go to war, Leonardo designed many weapons for him, including bombs and artillery. Great stuff. He appealed to the patron's needs. See how he downplays the artistic side and sells himself as a military engineer? Clever marketing. Hey, if Leonardo could be out of work and has to knock on doors as this letter proves, then those out of work shouldn't feel so bad. One can always reinvent oneself.
  • Fejack
    Well that about sums it up!
  • mcenedella
    Very, very occasionally, I'm left speechless -- Skep41 you've done it! Love this comment and I really can't add anything to your clever proposition. :)
  • CRushby
    This definitely got my attention. I normally browse your emails but this one I found very interesting. Even then, 500 years ago, if one wanted to stand out from the crowd one really had to carefully think how one would approach a potential employer and really consider the benefits for both in doing so. Thank you for this.
  • Wgreen
    It wasn't as though Ludovico didn't already know who Leonardo was. Da Vinci had crafted an exquisite silver lyre in the shape of a horse's head, and Lorenzo de Medici sent him to Milan to present it to Ludovico in hopes of securing a peace between Florence and Milan. So, lyre in hand, Leonardo was presented at court. Lorenzo undoubtedly provided a letter of introduction—a nice reference—as well. As Ludovico was a great patron of the arts, the ingenious design of the lyre no doubt impressed him. As it turns out, Ludovico indeed hired Leonardo, but it appears he spent considerably more time painting than making things that went "boom!"

    So-o-o... maybe the real "takeaway" here is this: see if you can find somebody influential to help you get your foot in the door; then do what you can to blow the hiring manager's socks off! Even if you don't get the job you applied for, you might get something else.
  • Al Hughes
    Thank you for the article, as I believe there is great value in the thoughts of great people, of every decade---or in this case, century.
    Well done!
  • mcenedella
    Or millenium, Al, let's not forget Millenium! :)
  • kaxelrod
    Very illuminating. Whether you call it a resume or cover letter, the point is well taken that it's about "what I can do for you; here's how I can add value". "What I did before" provides credibility to your statements, but it was for someone else, not your perspective employer.
  • mcenedella
    Exactly, right, Kaxel. "Here's how I add value" is the way to think about presenting yourself.
  • Knkjustine
    What inspiration !!! Nice piece. Justine
  • Terrybenish
    Sure...wonder what Einstein's recipe looked like.
  • mcenedella
    A-ha! Raising the bar on me, Terry! I like it!!
  • leonardo wannabe
    Good, now write me a resume that can find me a job as a 3d artist in any country outside of India. I can do everything employers are looking for in the USA except work for 2.5 dollars a day (which is what they want)...
  • Skep41
    The best way to get a job as a 3d artist is to do your own film.
  • Finance2011 Mba
    I sent out this cover letter via email 10 days ago and I have a lunch meeting next week with the President of the company. It's not as fancy as Leonardo's letter, but it worked.

    You have inspired me to continue networking and searching for a good fit. This cover letter was more about accomplishments because I wanted to update the President about my accomplishments since we met last 4 years ago:

    Hi XXXXX (President of Company),

    I have contacted you in the past few years to see if you have any financial analysis/management needs, and just wanted to touch base again. For the past several years I was in a fantastic position as Finance Manager at YYYYYY County General Services Agency. I upgraded the level of work the staff was doing, better integrated the staff into the Agency's operations, worked on strategy and training with the Deputy Director of Architecture, and had many other accomplishments. I can get strong references form there. The reason I am no longer at YYYYY County is that my position was upgraded to a Finance Director position, and someone from another County was chosen.

    I also have accomplishments in banking and at ZZZZZ Financial Advisors in San Ramon . I went back to ZZZZZZ between November 2010 and January 2011 to be a planner assistant for a successful planner whose assistant had just left. I am looking for a permanent position where I can contribute well and help an organization thrive.

    Thank you, and I would enjoy the opportunity to network with you and gain your insights and how I could best position myself to be an important contributor to a company in this difficult economy.

  • Stace Rudd
    Good thought, but don't forget that the reason Da Vinci was able to trumpet all the great things he could do to meet the Duke's needs was because his past accomplishments had already established him as a wunderkind who could deliver. If he hadn't already had a known track record, his claims would likely have been met with pure skepticism.

    I agree 100% that applicants should focus on what they can do to meet an employer's needs, but past accomplishments are the proof of whether they can do what they say they will. I've seen a trend in the US, manifesting itself in earnest with the 2008 elections, to focus on profile rather than performance, and on words rather than deeds.

    As I saw in a recent chewing tobacco ad (of all places!): "I did!" trumps "I will" every time.
  • Claudia Sampson
    I strongly disagree. You're past achievements are quickly forgotten and more often dismissed as just that: yesterday's news. People are too hung up on what they did in the past, and unable to let go. I am more inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt based on a number of factors besides what they said they did for so and so when things the wind was their back. As far as your reference to people in 2008 making promises they haven't delivered on, then my question is this: who do you know is the same person today they were two years ago when the head winds being as strong as they are today are coming from all sides, and are still able to stand and face their worst critics on the side? Are we so unwilling to put our backs to the wheel, our noses to the grind stone to help solve the problems of such unprecedented proportions and give every man and woman willing to work, a chance to do so, even if their resume is not replete with amazing achievements? My money's on the man who's willing to stick around and clean up the mess after the elephants have moved on.

    Claudia Sampson
  • Danlhan99
    True, Claudia. Our achievements are less pertinent than our future. We need to be able to act on the need of our future employers.

    I disagree with your assumption that standing for your position against all odds makes us right. There are terrorists (an extreme example) that stand in the face of the worldview of respect for all mankind. This tenacious stand does not make them right. I, myself, have stood in the face of adversity and lost. We need to be able to adjust our position into a win-win scenario for those around us and for ourselves. I think that Da Vinci did this in his examples of wartime and peacetime. He boldly said that he could adapt.

    Most people, who have experienced the ranks of the unemployed, will be willing to clean up any mess in exchange for the title "gainfully employed".

    Dan Hansen
  • Roseloretta
    But, did he get the job?
  • Marcelo
    Yes! Leonardo did work for the Duke of Milan for years
  • Maureen
    Did he get the job?
  • J.F.Fothergill
    Thank you for sending Da Vinci's letter out to us. Liz Ryan would call this a Pain Letter. It addresses the needs of his potential employer, the Duke of Milano. As you can see, the Duke had governmental, defense, civic, and business needs that Leonardo filled. This translation is a service to all of us seeking positions with the duke's of today. Gratzie!
  • mcenedella
    JF - that is very nicely said. Yes, it is a "pain" letter and matching your capabilities to an employer's needs is exactly what you should do.
  • Mike_Tobias

    This was so much fun to read. I'm passing this on to everyone I know. The points you make are also true of people's websites. Everyone talks about their past accomplishments... who cares? Our websites and sales conversations also need to take this very same tone.

  • mcenedella
    Fantastic, Mike, I am glad you enjoyed it. Yes, please pass it along -- we should always be focused on what we can do for others if we hope to persuade them to work with us.
  • CookieB
    In the Fashion Industry, I am told by even RLauren's HR, that no one reads our cover letters.

    Washington Tax Cuts, tho and Budget cuts DO help, I am told by hiring agencies here in NYC.
  • M Lachance
    The best I have received and will follow this example in promoting MEDC Services Inc. my new venture. :)
  • Suzan McGovern
    Dearest Marc,
    Thank you for the awesome Monday morning communication re: Leonardo Da Vinci's resume. He and I share a similar birthday and therefore he was always my favorite artist. In addition to being a Clinical Investigations and Bioethics professional I am an artist who is remaining calm during my strident search for new employment by assisting the resident artist at my church. It is you, however, who is the genius.

    Suzan McGovern
  • mcenedella
    Suzan, thank you very much for the kind words, and i am glad to hear that you were as inpsired by Leonardo as I was!
  • Hhoerdemann
    It seems the document is Da Vinci's cover letter, not resume. The resume is largely about what you have done. The cover letter is how you are going to benefit the client, which seems to be what the document is and what you are applauding.
  • Jsmith
    I have heard of a letter where Da Vinci asked (the adresee) whether any of his work will ever matter, which letter is that?
  • Groundhogman36
    Whatever else he was, he was a genius and a legend in his own time.
  • thanks.I'm working on my davinci resume now.
  • Mishawagon
    Don't you think this kind of long-form brown-nosing should be reserved for the cover letter and not the resume? The resume is standard by now, but I think the form and content of the cover letter is open for interpretation.
  • Anon
    I believe this is called a "cover letter ."
  • The most interesting thing I have read this year thank you.
  • The most interesting thing I have read this year.
  • Suwgamm
    He was also VEGETARIAN :)
  • "Mr. Rothbart, how about this guy Leonardo? Here's his resume." "Roundfile it, Bumpkin--too fluffy" Wm
  • RUaa
    This is a first time am satisfied about what am reading not only the resume but in whole the page especially this sense : " You’ll notice he doesn’t recite past achievements " . but i just ask my self is they except resume like that ? resume without achievements?
  • Did he get the job?
  • Leonardo, first an innovator, then a humanist, and very much a genius of all trades. Brilliant!
  • apparently he had impressive marketing skills too
  • Stijn Debrouwere
    "I’m a hopeless pedantic" A hopeless pedant or hopelessly pedantic, pick one. :-)
  • mcenedella
    It's an intentional play on words.

    The clichéd phrase in the US is 'hopeless romantic', so I appropriated the rhythm to create a newly turned phrase that is, hopefully, evocative and surprising. Now I imagine that I have conclusively *proven* to you that I am both hopeless and pedantic : )

    Thanks for reading!
  • Fee9l
    this is stupid
  • You are a hopeless pedantic, Stijn!
  • Very cool.
  • Rob findlay
    I'm not sure if Leonardo is the sort of person for our bank. He'd fail the personality testing, and my boss won't like 'the look of him'. He should try the other bank I think. Still, we'll keep his resume on file and contact him should the right opportunity comes up.
  • sashang
    The problem here is that his resume focuses on his ability and what he can do. The current working mentality of recruiters is to judge a candidate's merit based on his or her experience, which is what people typically list on their resumes. These items listed are meant to imply that the person has the level of ability required to do the job.
  • Miss Mary Max
    I love this ! What a wonderful piece of history to learn from. Thank you Marc C., and thanks Paul B. for posting of Facebook.
  • Sathya Nair62
    More than half the problems in corporate life is that some people use marketing dishonestly and claim to be capable of things which they are not capable of at all...
  • I'm working on my davinci resume now. Great personal marketing advice

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