If you’ve had a job, chances are good that you’ve written a resume. They are pretty much mandatory these days, and have been since about the 1940’s, when they often included information that is now taboo such as marital status, religion and weight. The first resume? Leonardo Da Vinci is usually credited as having created it in 1482. Surprised? He invented just about everything else so why not the resume!

Clearly over the past 500 or so years resumes have evolved and improved, moving with the times from quill and ink, to the typewriter, the computer, and Microsoft Word. The job search itself has changed since DaVinci too, dramatically with the advent of the Internet, job boards, social media, and LinkedIn. You might think that there’s nothing to learn from Da Vinci’s resume, that the world has changed too much, but you would be wrong.

Da Vinci’s resume is surprisingly modern in many ways and there are lessons that job seekers and other professionals can learn from it. (view the full english translation)

1.  He is focused on the needs of his prospective employer
The Duke of Milan is interested in warfare, of necessity and by design, given the warring nature of the Italian city states in general as well as his own political aspirations. He is thus looking for any advantage he can gain in this arena. Leonardo appeals directly to this desire, this need when he writes things like

“I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion.”


“I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy.”

Or this one

“Should a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defence, and craft which will resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon and powder and smoke.”

Note how he is focused on what the Duke of Milan needs, how he can meet those requirements, and the results the Duke can expect. He doesn’t just list his past jobs and accomplishments. He points out how he can solve the Duke’s problems, whether on the offensive, or in retreat. He shows the Duke how his specific talents can be used to accomplish his goals.

Employers today are no different – they want to know what you can do for them. They need to feel confident that you will produce what they need.

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2.  He tailors his resume to the job that he is applying for
Notice how he modifies his resume to the position, barely mentioning his painting and sculpting talents since the Duke isn’t looking for those skills. Da Vinci was a wildly accomplished man, a genius, who excelled at numerous intellectual, mechanical, and artistic pursuits but he checks his ego and largely leaves them off. When he does mention a skill, it is always in service of the issue important to the Duke.

“Should the need arise, I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance of very beautiful and functional design that are quite out of the ordinary.”

“In time of peace I believe I can give as complete satisfaction as any other in the field of architecture, and the construction of both public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another.”

“Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other.”

He pitches a peacetime role for his inventive skill sets but it is still focused on mechanical and engineering ideas and only at the very end does he quietly mention his artistic abilities. The man who would go on to paint the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, under the Duke’s patronage, doesn’t focus on those skills in this resume. He is focused on getting the job at hand, the one the Duke needs someone to do now.

Today’s job seeker MUST tailor their resume each time they apply. It is simply not enough to just list your skills or talk about past glory. You need to connect the dots for them. Explain how what you know how to do is relevant to their business problem and how you will use your skills and experience to solve it. Use the appropriate key words, phrases and technical terminology; even the exact same ones as in the job description when it makes sense to do so.

3.  He includes his technical skills and experience prominently
Look at how he specifically mentions the technology that he is familiar with

“I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats and how to make an infinite number of bridges, mantlets and scaling ladders and other instruments necessary to such an enterprise.”

“Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use. In short, as the variety of circumstances dictate, I will make an infinite number of items for attack and defence.”

He makes sure his prospective employer knows that he is familiar with these instruments and techniques and how he will use those to achieve certain goals, goals the Duke cares about. He ties his technical knowledge to the practical nature of getting the job done. He uses phrases that are specific to warfare and weaponry; he speaks the right industry language.

Modern resume writers need to do the same. Managers want to see people who have similar experience in similar situations as the job they are being hired for. Underscore how your experience fits the bill by using terms they will be familiar with and that will instantly demonstrate your ability to fit in quickly and hit the ground running.

That’s three lessons that the modern resume writer can learn from Da Vinci’s resume.  The man truly was a genius and though we needed no additional proof, this review of his resume shows that he was forward thinking in more things than just the plans for a helicopter or armored vehicle. Emulate the master from 1492 to write a truly great modern resume!

Looking for a new job? Read: How to Optimize Your Job Search, A Comprehensive Guide for Every Job Seeker


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