Lessons Learned from Leonardo’s Resume



Roughly 650 years after he sent it, Leonardo da Vinci’s letter to the Duke of Milan asking for a job is still very well known. In celebration of his upcoming April 15th birthday, it is worth looking at his approach to finding a new gig.

All of us go through the angst of looking for a new job throughout our careers. We wonder whether we should write a resume that is focused on the exact job we want - on our deep specific experience, or one that covers the breadth of our life experience – that we like to paint or sing or volunteer.

Leonardo went for breadth. Here are a few of the skills he described:

“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;  I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges; I will make covered chariots. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done.”

We would like to think that the world today moves more quickly than it did in the 15th century. When any of us look at new jobs, we want to share our whole selves – we want to show that we can adapt to whatever the job may be. And yet, we worry that we are not qualified enough, so we struggle with whether or not to include the extracurricular interests in fear of being viewed as not focused.

As hiring managers, we tend to focus on deep expertise – and may brush off the “breadth” candidates in favor of a technical expert. However, just as it was in the 15th century, our world is changing fast. We need people who know how to learn. We need the breadth candidates.

Ludovico Sforza, to whom Leonardo wrote his letter, deserves a lot of credit for saying "yes" to da Vinci - the Sforza commissioning of the painting of “The Last Supper” literally changed the world.

As we go through job changes, it’s hard to know how to portray ourselves. As HR professionals, recruiters, and hiring managers – it’s easy to rely on keywords and resume scans to find the best fit, but Leonardo reminds us that often times, it’s the candidate who might not have a degree in JSON or C# or GDPR – but one who can build chariots, sculpt and paint, design bridges, and architect a new building who might be the best candidate for a rapidly changing world.

As we move to a world of AI and machine learning, and as recruiting and HR becomes more automated, we run the risk of missing out on candidates like da Vinci – candidates are trained to make it past the automated scans by focusing their submissions – and da Vinci went for breadth in his letter to the Duke – and it worked out for both of them. Something to consider.

We need more da Vinci’s.



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