Three unusual lessons that can be learned from the world’s first CV

Nearly every working professional has a CV. I’m sure even you have a one. But have you ever stopped and wondered who created the first ever CV? Who was that man or woman who decided to summarise his/her skills and achievements into one document? Who is responsible for everybody’s job-search headache?

Supposedly, the CV was invented by Leonardo da Vinci, the same person who painted the Mona Lisa and invented a flying machine, a parachute, a revolving bridge and many more. So the next time you find yourself in pain over tailoring your CV for yet another job posting, you know whom to blame.

Da Vinci’s wrote his CV (or ‘résumé’ as he called it) in 1482. Leonardo’s document was quite different compared to the modern day ‘curriculum vitae’. His résumé looked more like an official letter— written in sophisticated language with multiple detours dedicated to show respect for the future employer.

He wrote, “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”. Imagine people in 21st century would need to come up with resumes like this?

However, despite all differences, Leonardo’s CV can teach us some great (and quite unusual) lessons about an effective job search.

Lesson 1. Even geniuses need to apply for jobs

Leonardo wrote his CV when he was applying for a job at the court of Ludovico Sforza, the de facto ruler of Milan. It is fun to imagine the great Leonardo da Vinci looking for a job, just as you are now. Even geniuses sometimes need to apply for jobs! Don’t wait for the world to find you and to recognise your unique skillset. Be proactive and help your potential employer discover you.

Lesson 2. Know what, when and who to sell to

Da Vinci’s job search was successful. He eventually got the job he wanted, and Sforza was the man who later commissioned one of the best known da Vinci’s paintings, The Last Supper. This, however, was ten years later, and back in 1482 Sforza was not interested in hiring painters, he was looking for military engineers. Leonardo had various talents, the ability to innovate and build prototypes was among them. So in his letter to Sforza, da Vinci presented himself as an engineer capable of constructing portable bridges and ‘vehicles which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery’.

Lesson 3. You don’t know what will make the best hit

Although Leonardo was applying for an engineering job, still, he mentioned some of his other skills. Just look at this: “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”. Judging by the wording, da Vinci added this bit mostly as a side note or as some sort of additional information. There was no way mentioning sculpture or painting could have helped da Vinci get the job of a military engineer at the time. Yet letting Sforza know about Leonardo’s additional skills was a good thing and has paid off. In the end of the day, it was exactly Sforza who commissioned da Vinci The Last Supper ten years later.

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