When you think of Leonardo da Vinci, the first words that come to mind are probably painter, sculptor and engineer. Perhaps even genius. What you might not know is that the Italian Renaissance man was also masterful at writing cover letters. Seriously.
I was surfing the web recently and came across this post highlighting the awesomeness of a cover letter da Vinci wrote when he was in his early 30s. It explains that da Vinci was applying for a job with the court of Ludovico Sforza, the de facto ruler of Milan at the time.
The letter (which you can read in full at the end of this article) was so good it landed da Vinci the gig. Turns out, Sforza later commissioned da Vinci to paint "The Last Supper."
Whether you're a business owner or manager who needs to be able to spot the best cover letter in a pile of applications or you're the person who's trying to advance his career and needs to compose that killer cover letter, da Vinci's note is worth a quick study.
Here are lessons we can learn from da Vinci, the master of many things, including cover-letter writing:
Make sure the salutation is specific and attention grabbing.
First of all, know who you're writing to and address him or her by name. If your cover letter starts with "Sir" or "Madam," start over again.
In da Vinci's letter, he addresses Sforza as "My Most Illustrious Lord." I'm no Duke, but if someone addressed me like that in a cover letter it would surely grab my attention. "Your Excellency" would do, too. (Just sayin'.)
Appeal to the employer's needs.
Too often, the person applying for a job is focused on why said position is perfect for him or her. Instead, a cover letter should communicate why he or she is perfect for the position. An employer wants to know how a person is going to solve his or her problems and help make the company even more awesome.
In the first paragraph of da Vinci's cover letter, he offers to share his "secrets" with Sforza and to "thereafter offer them at your complete disposal." OK, he has my attention. I'm reading on.
From there, da Vinci meticulously yet briefly outlines his military engineering skills and how he can put them to specific use to Sforza's benefit. Brilliant.
After outlining his skills and intentions, da Vinci says this about his painting prowess: "I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be."
No doubt, da Vinci was confident. If I was Sforza, I'd bring this guy in for an interview, ASAP.
Here's da Vinci's letter in full:
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.