The World’s First Resume is 500-years Old and Still Can Teach You a Lesson or Two

October 9, 2015

Leonardo da Vinci, born in the hills of Tuscany in the spring of 1452, had a lot of interests. He is credited for imagining the first parachute, tank and helicopter; is considered the father of paleontology and architecture; dabbled in cartography, botany and astronomy; and is widely regarded as one of the greatest painters of all time.

Oh, and one more thing: He is credited for writing the world’s first resume. And, 533 years later, it still stands up, although it certainly makes you wonder how much better it could have been today.

The story

In 1482, at the ripe age of 30, da Vinci wanted to find work in the city of Milan as a designer of bridges, or as a boat builder, or a sculptor, or as a man who builds machines that take water out of trenches, or whatever else the city needed (again, da Vinci had a lot of different talents).

So, he sent a letter to Ludovico Sforza, the Regent of Milan at the time, explaining his many skills. Thus, the resume was born.

Here’s what it looked like:

  • worlds first resume

What da Vinci’s resume said

Can’t read it? Don’t fret - it was written in Latin after all. But he started with a bold introduction, brimming with flowery language. 

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.

Then, he listed eleven things he could do for Milan. The first nine all dealt with helping them win wars, such as knowing how to build “mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with those I can fling small stones almost resembling a storm” and “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.”

Showing he was more than just a fighter though, da Vinci’s last two points talked about what he could do during peacetime, while also flatting the regent. He wrote:

“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.”

What makes da Vinci’s resume so great

Have to hand it to da Vinci – for reportedly being the first resume ever made, it is pretty strong. 

First off, it’s incredibly personalized. Rather than the normal cookie cutter resumes recruiters are used to getting, this one is written specifically for Sforza.

Along those lines, and what really makes it jump, is the resume isn’t about the candidate, as most resumes are. Instead, it is about how the candidate – da Vinci – could help the city of Milan, by both ensuring victory during wars and creating beautiful buildings and art during peacetime.

And then, there’s the result: It worked, as Sforza brought da Vinci to Milan, where he would stay for 17 years. There, da Vinci did some of his best work, including painting The Last Supper, which remains one of the most famous pieces of art in the world. 

Would da Vinci’s resume work today?

Well, yes - but think about how much better it could be today. First off, he might not even have a resume, but instead a LinkedIn profile showcasing his skills and accomplishments.

What would make it so much better? In his original resume, da Vinci told Sforza what he could do, but he couldn’t really show what he could do.

Today, on his LinkedIn profile, he could link to a YouTube video showing off his chariots in action, or embed photos of his great architectural designs, or blog about his new idea for a cart that could fly by attaching a propeller to the top of it.

The biggest critique you could make about da Vinci’s original resume was that it was too bold; it covered too many topics. Of course, it was true; but if you didn’t know who da Vinci was, you’d probably raise an eyebrow reading it.

Now, da Vinci wouldn’t have to worry about people believing his resume. He could prove it by creating an online profile that would show off his skills, instead of him having to boast about them.

After all, it’s one thing to read a resume from a candidate saying he or she can paint a picture so great, it’ll live on forever. Or, they could just show you the Mona Lisa, and let you come to that conclusion yourself.

*Featured image from Flash Fifteen

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