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.

LeonardoResumeLarge.jpg

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?

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. PeterF says:

    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!

  2. Hweyhwey says:

    This is really a fantastic / good read.

  3. Duncan says:

    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?!

  4. Marcelo says:

    Yes! Leonardo did work for the Duke of Milan for years

  5. Jamesfleming says:

    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!!

  6. mcenedella says:

    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. :)

  7. mcenedella says:

    If only they'd had YouTube!!

  8. Claudia Sampson says:

    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

  9. Rubecko says:

    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.

  10. Shant Markarian says:

    Marc:

    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

  11. Danlhan99 says:

    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

  12. Jeannie Welsch says:

    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.

  13. Fejack says:

    Well that about sums it up!

  14. dpmccain says:

    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!

  15. mcenedella says:

    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!

  16. Page Temple says:

    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.

  17. Bonnimoore says:

    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

  18. Paul says:

    That is a thing of beauty!

  19. Bhingare Sanath kumar says:

    p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

    I am Extremely Thanks full for the
    author who has posted this article on resume.So If you are looking for a free
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    onlineresumetemplates.com site it gives a free resume templates for
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  20. Bhingare Sanath kumar says:

    p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

    I am Extremely Thanks full for the
    author who has posted this article on resume.So If you are looking for a free
    resume templates.Then you can visit the site
    onlineresumetemplates.com site it gives a free resume templates for
    all resume category

  21. Fparsay says:

    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!

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  23. Phillip says:

    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.

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  29. bitercat says:

    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.

  30. Tuxedo For Weddings says:

    Thanks for writing
    this. I really feel as though I know so much more about this than I did
    before. Your blog really brought some things to light that I never would have
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  31. syeds says:

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

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  32. It is very easy to make critic on any work guys, but it was the time when such guys gave us wonderful tools for job search as resume. Today we have just advanced but my tribute to its initiators.

  33. It is absolutely right.A nice work to market and improve the core value.

  34. erlking says:

    No. You’re just wrong.

  35. nuzume says:

    Marc – terrific stuff! I wasn’t sure the resume was this old, nor that da Vinci was credited with this creation. Isn’t it ironic that today’s common advice to tailor your resume is EXACTLY what he did? As a well-known figure in his day, I’m not sure he needed to highlight his achievements like the rest of us – but your point is well taken. We’re creating infographic resumes at http://www.nuzume.com, and we’re always inspired by creative thought. In fact, we’re working up Leonardo’s nuzume as a sample right now, and we’ll share it when it’s complete!

  36. What I wanna know is, did he get the job, and his desired starting salary?

  37. Tammana Sule says:

    I have always liked the paintings of leonardo da vinci and now I also like this piece of his writing. Thanks for sharing this.

  38. tammana sule says:

    I have always liked the paintings of leonardo-da-vinci and now I also like this piece of his writing. Thanks for sharing this.

  39. nobody flock333 says:

    no ur stupid…… idiot

  40. Myron Baer says:

    I just reread this and used this approach to apply for a job.  I got a return call from the recruiter 28 minutes after it was sent!  That’s a world record (at least for me).  My interview is tomorrow.  Thanks for the great tip!

  41. Leo Yakubov says:

    We are changing the WAY people apply for jobs. Imagne if leonardo had this webpage–> facebook.com/barehire —twitter.com/barehire

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