In the early 1480’s, Leonardo Da Vinci was in search of work. This was well before he had become the renowned artist we know today.
He had a few prospects, but was aware of one opportunity to work for Ludovico Sforza, the bona fide ruler of Milan at the time. Having heard that Sforza was searching for engineers in particular, Da Vinci drafted a letter to tout his own abilities.
What followed was a verbose, 10 point list of his immaculate engineering prowess, which hardly touched on his artistic talents.It’s scattered and overly long, yet he still managed to get the job. The question is why. If one were to receive a similar letter today it would probably be thrown out, but at what cost?
My theory is that it came down to the work that Da Vinci had already completed in his career. While still not in his prime, Da Vinci could boast an apprenticeship with the great Andrea De Verrocchio, being accepted into the painters’ guild of Florence, and completing several paintings, including the famous Adoration of The Magi.
Da Vinci had a reputation for talent and his work spoke louder than his words. Despite his focus on engineering in the letter, Da Vinci got the job due to his painting that was on display for any to see. Sforza was able to recognize that talent, after all, it was he who commissioned the painting of The Last Supper.
My point is a simple one. Resumes, cover letters, and the like aren’t the best portrayal of abilities or talents. As employees, we need to focus more on creating and building a portfolio. As bosses, we need to put more stock into what an individual has accomplished, rather than what they say about it.
The work is more important than how we sell it. Below you can find the transcribed letter that is also found in the phenomenal book, Letters of Note.
My Most Illustrious Lord,
Having now sufficiently seen and considered the achievements of all those who count themselves masters and artificers of instruments of war, and having noted that the invention and performance of the said instruments is in no way different from that in common usage, I shall endeavour, while intending no discredit to anyone else, to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets, and thereafter offering them at your complete disposal, and when the time is right bringing into effective operation all those things which are in part briefly listed below:
1. I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy, and others, sturdy and indestructible either by fire or in battle, easy and convenient to lift and place in position. Also means of burning and destroying those of the enemy.
2. 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.
3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth.
4. 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.
5. Also, I have means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise, even if it should be necessary to pass underneath moats or any river.
6. Also, I will make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery, and there is no host of armed men so great that they would not break through it. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow, quite uninjured and unimpeded.
7. Also, 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.
8. 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.
9. And 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.
10. 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, whosoever he may be.
Moreover, work could be undertaken on the bronze horse which will be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the auspicious memory of His Lordship your father, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.
And if any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible or impracticable to anyone, I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park or in whatsoever place shall please Your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.
Would you hire Da Vinci?