Leonardo da Vinci is well known for his paintings and his absolute genius. All the way back in the 16th century, he conceived of the helicopter, calculators, and solar power. It's all there in his notes.
Did you know that we also have a copy of his resume? That makes it one of the earliest ever recorded.
So here’s the point of this blog post:
They say that the best way to learn is by example. Therefore, in my opinion, a resume written by one of the greatest geniuses ever makes for the perfect resume example. After all, if you can’t trust a genius to write an excellent resume, then whom can you trust?
The genius of da Vinci’s perfect resume
Da Vinci’s resume is striking for its relentless, impressive salesmanship. He does two major things to accomplish writing this impressive resume. First, he shows that he has the array of skills needed to help his patron succeed. Secondly, he shows that he has workplace attributes like flexibility, co-operation, and multi-tasking.
People forget that resumes are written primarily to advertise themselves. It is NOT a biography that haphazardly lists every irrelevant achievement, and records every boring task you’ve ever done. It is supposed to be targeted for a specific audience. Don’t make the mistake of leaving salesmanship to the cover letter and the interview; a messy, purposeless resume isn’t likely to get you an interview anyway.
So let’s learn from da Vinci’s genius resume by studying how he sells himself to the Duke of Milan.
Resume Tip 1: Speak to your audience
Da Vinci writes:
“Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war… I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency…”
Modern translation: “Dear hiring manager, you are in need of newly invented weapons to defeat your enemies, and I can invent and supply them for you.”
This introductory sentence is basically da Vinci’s career objective. The career objective should always be written with the needs of the company in mind. You’re applying to the company to fill a role, and perform the relevant duties. The point of the career objective is to explain the major skills and experience you have that make you an ideal candidate for that role. You can read more about how to write a career objective here.
So what makes da Vinci’s “career objective” so genius? At the time, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, was engaged in treacherous political rivalry and warfare. Leonardo recognized that the Duke needed an expert in weaponry, engineering, and tactics to win his battles. Therefore, he designed his resume to appeal to the Duke’s thirst for military victory.
Resume Tip 2: Make that first bullet point count
Right away, da Vinci shows that he’s capable of fulfilling his career objective for the Duke of Milan.
Da Vinci writes:
“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.”
That is exactly how you want to begin your resume – with impressive, relevant experience that will make the hiring manager scratch their chin and say “this person is on the ball.” Check out this method of mining facts and figures from your current or previous jobs, so that your resume can have the same powerful effect.
I assume that you also feel its powerful effect — reading it makes me laugh out loud every single time. His neutral and objective writing tone contrasts vividly with the absolute ingenuity of his inventions. The additional sentence fragment at the end is the cherry on top –it’s almost as though he’s forgotten that he’s devised foolproof methods of destroying enemy bridges.
Indeed, part of da Vinci’s success with this resume is that he lets his achievements speak for themselves. You can feel that he isn’t bragging. Da Vinci states very simply what tools he has, and what he can do with them. It just so happens that his inventions, beyond being genius and devastatingly effective, are also exactly what the Duke of Milan needs to succeed in his military campaigns.
The contemporary way of letting your achievements “speak for themselves” is to never use the word “I” on your resume. All professionally written resumes descriptions instead begin with a verb-phrase. (Yes, da Vinci’s begins with an “I” – shocking that resumes have changed since the 16th century!)
Resume Tip 3: Use descriptive, but appropriate language
Da Vinci writes:
“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.”
Just look at those words and phrases: “Convenient,” “easy to carry,” “fling” “resembling a storm,” “terror,” “detriment,” and “confusion.”
That is a mammoth sentence, and no less than literary in its structure and word use.
I’ll concede – if you’re a data analyst, there is no way you’ll be writing a job description as exciting as this one. You just can’t compete with epic warfare.
(Note: It is not appropriate to compare your ability to tear through pages of data analysis to a tornado.)
But, the point isn’t to beat da Vinci at his own game (unless you’re working for Lockheed Martin and invented the Hellfire missile). The hope is that you can beat out the other data analysts, waiters, public servants, etc. — all of whom are angling for the same jobs!
It might seem hard to be descriptive, especially in comparison to da Vinci. But here’s how a waiter can write a descriptive and impressive job description:
“Devised a method of persuading customers to order more alcohol, increasing average sales to over $500 per day, or $100 more than the company-wide average.”
Inventive, persuasive, and effective? Your interview is in the bag. Check out this guide for more tips on how to write a resume format like a professional.
Resume Tip 4: Emphasize your flexibility
In the previous sections, da Vinci explains that he’s talented at blowing up forts, no matter how well defended and constructed. But what happens when he runs into trouble? He goes the extra mile and shows the Duke how he can succeed even if his other strategies fail.
Da Vinci writes:
“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.”
Dealing with change, defeat, and failure is a part of life — and it’s a part of business. Include examples from your experience where you used your intelligence and skills to work around problems or difficulties. There is no one more valuable than someone that is cool under fire. To err is human – to recover is divine!
Resume Tip 5: Be more than a one-trick pony
The Duke of Milan may have been temporarily beset by destructive warfare, but those weren’t his only concerns. Da Vinci therefore taps into the Duke’s more civic-oriented goals.
Da Vinci writes:
“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.”
You also must express your ability to manage different roles. As is the nature of a volatile marketplace, businesses will encounter crises, or coast along smoothly depending on a number of factors. You might need to manage different teams of people, and/or understand the workings of several simultaneous projects, and then see them to completion. Showing that you can be useful at any given time – and in any given place — is another critical talent hiring managers are looking for.
Resume Tip 6: Show that you’re a team player
Da Vinci finishes his resume with a truly inspired touch. In his final bullet point, da Vinci states that he’s willing to use his talents to make sculptures, paintings, and bronze castings of his patrons. Subtly showing that you’re capable of a little ego stroking can’t hurt!
Da Vinci writes:
“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.”
Being a team player is part of business — and you definitely need to know how to play ball with the person who is above you. For your resume, find examples where you helped your boss or other employees finish projects with no obvious reward for yourself. It shows that you’ve got spirit, you’re easy going, and talented. And that you might just make things easier on the person that’s going to hire you!
Leonardo da Vinci’s incredible resume can be mined even further for amazing resume tips and factoids, but I’ve stuck with the major points. So if you want to write the perfect resume, try to measure up to the Leonardo da Vinci standard. Yes, I know, and I sympathize: