In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci sent a letter to the Duke of Milan. The letter detailed da Vinci’s skills – at least, the skills that da Vinci thought the Duke might appreciate. It was, for all practical purposes, a résumé. In fact, while da Vinci isn’t likely to have been the first to come up with the idea (although he did invent an awful lot of things!), his letter to the Duke is the first evidence we have of someone writing akin to résumé. And the funny thing is, it’s a pretty great example of how to write a résumé. So what can you learn from a 15th century résumé? Read on and find out…
First, have a look at this translation of da Vinci’s letter to the Duke of Milan (scroll below to see the full translation). Quite the résumé, right? Let’s see how it stacks up to our guidelines for writing a great résumé.
Our tip: Start off with a distinctive headline.
Da Vinci begins with “Most Illustrious Lord.” Granted, that may be a little over the top today, but in its time, it was an appropriate opening. After all, it’s important to get the title of the person you’re addressing correct.
Our tip: Incorporate desired job titles into your headline. Frame yourself in the way you want to be seen…set yourself apart from the get-go.
Da Vinci says that he knows everyone who makes “instruments of war” and that they all make the same stuff. Da Vinci says that, unlike all those other guys, he has come up with new techniques.
What’s great about this headline is that da Vinci isn’t telling the Duke what a great artist or sculptor he is; da Vinci knows that the thing that will most interest the Duke is his ability to make “instruments of war.” So that’s how he sells himself. Remember, your headline doesn’t need to say everything about you; it needs to be targeted to your audience and what they are looking for.
Our tip: Do not just list skills. Support value statements with facts from your employment background. Elaborate when needed.
Here’s where da Vinci really brings it home. Let’s look at the first of da Vinci’s eleven numbered points. Note that da Vinci doesn’t say “I can build bridges.” He explains that the bridges he builds are “extremely light and strong” and “easily carried.” He mentions that these qualities make it possible for the Duke to pursue or flee from an enemy.
In other words, da Vinci is reminding the Duke of exactly why the Duke wants light and strong bridges that can be easily carried. He also adds that he is familiar with ways of destroying enemy bridges. Bonus!
And speaking of bonuses, in number seven, da Vinci writes a great value statement: he says he can “make covered chariots, safe and unattackable.” After all, anyone can design a chariot. But designing a safe and unattackable chariot? That’s another level of expertise. Highlight where your skills go above and beyond.
Our tip: Avoid pictures, graphics, and fancy language.
In fairness, this is one of our tips for online résumés to use with ATS systems, something da Vinci didn’t have to worry about. Nonetheless, da Vinci was a pretty good artist (pretty good). Think of all the flair he could’ve added to his letter. But he was writing a résumé to create instruments of war. Artistic flair isn’t required when you’re making instruments of war so he kept his letter straight-forward and on point.
But that doesn’t mean he left out his artistic work altogether. Da Vinci realized that this was a great résumé to send to the Duke if the Duke was planning on any upcoming wars. But what if the Duke encountered an unexpected period of peace? Da Vinci made sure to add that he could be useful in the “off season,” too: da Vinci offered his architectural, engineering, and artistic skills, “to the immortal glory and eternal honor” of the Duke and his family. Your résumé should have the same careful planning and structure as da Vinci’s other masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.
Our tip: Carefully select keywords to insert into your résumé.
Again, this is one of our tips for optimizing your résumé for use with ATS systems. But the human brain has similarities to computer systems that scan for specific words. The key here is: know your audience. Throughout his letter, da Vinci references the objects he can design that are “out of the common type” – different from what’s already out there. He talks about “being able to cause great terror to the enemy.” He says he can design tools for both “offense and defense.” It doesn’t take much creativity of thought to understand why these phrases may have piqued the Duke’s interest.
What words related to your industry or the position you are applying for do you think an employer will tell the ATS program to look for? Make sure to include those so your potential future employer (or their computer system) will notice you.
No one expects you to be the next Leonardo da Vinci – at least not as far as his artistic, architectural, and engineering innovations are concerned. But your résumé could be just as good – if not better – than his. If you’re not quite sure how to get your résumé up to snuff, contact us online or by calling 630-426-6881 to set up your free consultation today! We can help you design the résumé that will lead to your next position and – who knows? Maybe 500 years from now someone will write a blog about how great your résumé is.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Letter to the Duke of Milan
“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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I will make covered chariots, safe and un-attackable, 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.
- In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance of fine and useful forms, out of the common type.
- Where the operation of bombardment might fail, I would contrive catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvelous 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.
- 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.
- 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.”