You may not be aware, and why would you be, that the first CV in documented history was written by someone we would now regard as needing no introduction – the grand master himself, Leonardo Da Vinci.
If you are on the look out for a new role and need to dust off your CV, you would do well to take some tips from the Renaissance genius who, wishing to market himself in 1482 to the Duke of Milan, penned, or rather quilled, a manuscript detailing his capabilities and achievements.
Despite its great age, the document has stood the test of time as an excellent example of how one should sell oneself. Résumé experts have found recurring themes in Da Vinci’s CV that are equally applicable to the 21st century.
List key accomplishments
Packing your CV with keywords in order for it to turn up in search results is not as effective as detailing past achievements. Da Vinci wove his accomplishments into superlative narrative, although admittedly his accomplishments were quite extraordinary, he also used imagery to create a vision of the future and what his employment with the Duke of Milan would look like.
No graphics required
If one of the greatest artists in history can do without graphics, then so can you. Today’s CVs can be littered with quirky icons and bar charts with the intention of conveying meaningful performance information. Where résumés are concerned, the written word is all that is required. A good covering letter is also critical. Here is Da Vinci’s opening gambit;
“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 anyone 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.”
A resume must show your enthusiasm as well as listing achievements. This can be conveyed through demonstrating innovative ways you address challenges, as Da Vinci does so eloquently;
“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.”
Be conscious also of tailoring your CV, or at least your cover letter, very specifically to the role for which you are applying. Clearly Da Vinci was well aware of the Duke’s great passion for big guns, mangonels, catapults, and trabocchi. Da Vinci clearly knew exactly what his future boss wanted to hear.
Da Vinci also steers clear of listing past duties and responsibilities and instead speaks of outcomes. A future employer will be aware of some of the more basic duties someone of your experience will have just by your previous job roles, they will not however know about the effectiveness of your trabocchi and mangonels so be sure to prioritise them.
– “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.””
All in one résumé Da Vinci combines his skills at designing war machines with his aptitude for architecture and art demonstrating his versatility. Anything significant and relevant to your career, and so to your employability, needs to be on your CV.
Da Vinci ends with an offer to put proof in the pudding, hoping for the opportunity to demonstrate his capabilities in person.
“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.”
Leonardo was successful in his application and worked for the Duke for 17 years in all. More than half a millennium later his résumé still has much to teach us.
Images courtesy of Canva and Public Domain