Thursday, April 14, 2011

what we can learn from Leonardo da Vinci's resume

Leonardo's resume compliments of www.leonardo3.net
So this weekend I finally took the bull by the horns and started updating my resume.  I had not looked at it in while, and seeing some of the career twists and turns I had made over the years made me smile...and cringe.  And those are just the ones that made the 2-page cut-off. I can probably list a few of the professions I have held in my life here but for the full monty you are going to have to hold out for my memoire.  I would rather not have to completely mortify my mother until she sees I have made some sort of career.... as a novelist perhaps?.... out of all of those questionable choices.

So on this version of my resume you have my stint supporting two professors at the Harvard Business School, my not-quite-perfect 3.9 GPA, (that's the way I see it anyway) various academic honors such as Phi Beta Kappa, my job at a law firm where I discovered that despite that maxim that English majors must become lawyers or teachers, this one was definitely not going into law.  All pretty reasonable for a twenty-something graduate of Boston College who did not know what she wanted to do with her life.  I left off the endless years waiting tables and tending bar, including my gig as the scantily-clad bartender at the VIP bar upstairs at Avalon nightclub where I invented a new drink each Tuesday night for the Saudi Princes attending BU who would slap their American Express cards down on the bar and exuberently buy a round of shots for their friends. I skipped the job where I booked bands for some dive bars in Philly.  My first online store selling CDs did not make the cut.  Neither did the MLMs Nature's Sunshine or Herbalife.  My website selling computers that I built myself is on there, but will probably disappear in the latest revision.


At any rate, I became stalled at the prospect of adding my *current job* on the resume because my job title, "Controller" reflects the duties of an Accountant, when in actuality my job here has involved so much more than numbers.And that lack of being able to sum up my career in a succinct, searchable job title has made it difficult for me to avail myself of online job search offerings in the past. Really in my last two positions, which have spanned more than a decade, I have spent my time scaling two small businesses from 2 + million dollar affairs to 10.  Individual skills aside, my real expertise is in walking into a messy situation and cleaning it up, delegating what needs to be delegated, tackling some of the sticky stuff myself with my diverse skills in IT, accounts receiveable, accounts payable, coercive writing, communication and negotiation skills, payroll, office management, human resources....and then, in a perfect world, leaving.  Lingering and getting caught in the minutae of the daily ins and outs of running a small business...well, I would not mind it if it were mine, but to do that day in and day out for someone else, without a creative outlet, does not really work for me.

page from one of Leonardo's journals
Which probably goes to show that I should have gotten my MBA and gotten a job as a management consultant.  It was one of the temp jobs I held...and they loved me there.  Perhaps.  But that's not helping me right now.  What I was struggling with Sunday night staring at the computer screen was whether or not I should start adding to and polishing this thing up or should I chuck it and start all over?  How much of my resume should be a laundry list of the various tasks I perform(ed), and how much of it should be a litany of accomplishments? How can I SELL my diverse skillset to a potential employer who will have no idea of what I could do for him or her until he looks at my cover letter and 2-page dog and pony show.

So it struck me as ironic Monday morning when I got an email in my inbox from Marc Cenedella, the CEO and Founder of TheLadders.com, who posted a feature on his blog about the resume of none other than inventor, mathmetician, musician, engineer, scientist, writer, and artist extraordinaire Leonardo DaVinci.  I urge you to click the link and read the post. Most of it is reprinted below in his email, which is what I found in my email box this past Monday am:

Good Monday morning, Andrea,

Before he was famous, before he painted the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, before he invented the helicopter, before he drew the most famous image of man, before he was all of these things, Leonardo da Vinci was an artificer, an armorer, a maker of things that go "boom".

And, like you, he had to put together a resume to get his next gig. So in 1482, at the age of 30, he wrote out a letter and a list of his capabilities and sent it off to Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan.

Well, we at TheLadders.com have tracked down that resume, and I'm presenting it to you in honor of da Vinci's birthday coming up this Friday, April the 15th. You can click on the image below to see the full-size version.



The translation of this letter is quite remarkable:

"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 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.
  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."



I'm a hopeless pedantic, so of course I'm going to take this opportunity to let you know what you can learn from Leonardo's resume ...


You'll notice he doesn't recite past achievements. He doesn't mention the painting of the altarpiece for the Chapel of St Bernard; he doesn't provide a laundry list of past bombs he's built; he doesn't cite his prior employment in artist Andrea di Cione's studio.


No, he does none of these things, because those would be about his achievements, not the Duke's needs.


Instead, he sells his prospective employer on what Leonardo can do for him.


self-portrait in red chalk c. 1519
Now imagine being the Duke of Milan and receiving this magnificent letter/resume from the young Wunderkind of Florence. The specific descriptives paint a wonderful picture (that is, if you're a Renaissance Duke) of siege engines and bombardments and mortars and trench-draining and bridges to defeat the enemy. You can almost imagine the scenes that ran through the Duke's head as he held this letter in his hands and read through Leonardo da Vinci's bold statements of capabilities.


I mean, who wouldn't want "kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; [that] can fling small stones almost resembling a storm"? Sounds pretty enticing.


And that's exactly what your resume needs to do, too. Not the laundry list/standard bio that talks about you, but the marketing piece that talks about the benefits to your future employer and how you fit into his or her needs and desires.


So it turns out that even on his 559th birthday, this remarkable fellow Leonardo da Vinci is still teaching us something about the future. What a genius...


Here's wishing you an illustrious week, Readers!
I'll be flinging small stones on your behalf,
Marc Cenedella, CEO & Founder The Ladders.com
Marc Cenedella's TwitterFollow me on Twitter here: @cenedella
Or follow the conversation on da Vinci's resume on my blog.

So a debate ensues a bit on Marc's blog regarding the purpose of a cover letter versus a resume, a few folks pointed out that the cover letter is really more akin to Leonardo's above dissertation on why the Duke cannot crush his enemies without him, while the resume still should list accomplishments.  But from my experience as someone on the hiring end, Marc makes a great point with this post.  At least with many of the resumes that come across my desk, a laundry list of tasks that reads like a job description, however neatly presented on the page, really is nothing more than just that---a list, and even when punctuated by those bullet points of overwrought statistics, "increased collections by 150% in 9 months!"---it still forces me as the prospective employer to fill in the blanks myself as to how this person will fit into my company.  Probably not a huge deal when we are talking about hiring my administrative assistant, but when it comes to hiring someone like myself looking for an executive position, the employer should read my resume and, like the Duke of Milan,  have his head filled with ideas about what I could do for his bottom line.

Of course it did not take long for someone to spoof on da Vinci's resume, check this out, it's great.  No one in my company would even get it though, sadly.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and
St. John the Baptist
 (c. 1499–1500)—
National Gallery, London
And my final take home message? How about that even a great artist and inventor like da Vinci, who is widely recognized as perhaps the most talented person who ever lived, who we are still enamored with  almost 6 centuries later, had to go out and get a day job.  So despite having to suffer through making portable bridges and mortars when he would rather be painting Saints and sexy women, having to kiss the ass of this or that Duke or Duchess, having to patiently work with people who possessed one-eighth of his IQ, and constantly having to deal with the intrigue and peril of Italian Renaissance era politics, da Vinci was able to create beautiful and enduring works of art and science that still fascinate us today.  I'm obviously no da Vinci, but somehow this gives me hope that even I can still make a difference. 


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