Leonardo DaVinci was the ultimate Renaissance man — a genius by anyone’s standards. The Italian polymath excelled as a painter, sculptor, inventor, engineer, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, botanist, anatomist, and geologist.
Even nearly 500 years after his death, people are blown away by his achievements, from the painting of the Mona Lisa to the invention of the helicopter.
But Leonardo di ser Piero Da Vinci had another, little-known talent up his paint-coated sleeve: The man could write a killer cover letter.
Let’s take a look at a letter he wrote in 1482 to Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan, when 30-year-old DaVinci was hungry for work. We asked headhunter Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job, and CEO of Bulletproof your Resume , to provide his expert analysis of DaVinci’s letter and show job-seekers what they can learn from this man of letters. (The full translation of the letter follows.)
LiveCareer: First of all, is this document a cover letter or a resume ?
Stephen Viscusi: Actually, it’s both. And it’s perfect. He includes the personalized element of a cover letter with elements of a resume. More people today should consider morphing their cover letters and resumes. Employers today get so many resumes they hardly have time to read them.
LC: What do you think of the letter overall?
SV: DaVinci was clearly a creative genius even with this kind of task, because he understood what not enough people today do: That bosses or companies want to sense your loyalty, your ability to make them look good, and to protect them. The one major theme seen throughout DaVinci’s cover letter is that he has the boss’s back. Credentials and qualifications are not as important.
LC: Most of DaVinci’s letter describes all the ways he can help the duke in times of war. He barely even mentions his artistic talents. Here’s a typical paragraph. What’s the deal?
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.
SV: The deal is that DaVinci knew the Duke was in the market for a military genius, not an artistic genius at that time. He played to his audience – not necessarily to his strengths. It’s exactly what today’s job seekers need to do. Be what someone is looking for, and then become the person you said you were.
You can take a career aptitude test to identify your strengths and find out how to use this knowledge to get the right job for you.
LC: How would this paragraph translate in today’s job hunt:
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.
SV: If DaVinci was in information technology , it would read something like this: “I know how to design software better than other people. It will sell. I am a low-maintenance employee. I am good at multi-tasking and I take direction well. And I know how to knock out the competition.”
LC: The letter apparently worked. The Duke hired DaVinci. Are you surprised?
SV: Not at all. DaVinci told him exactly what he needed to hear, and then most certainly followed through. I’m sure the Duke was very happy with his hire.
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