In follow up to my last post “Model Cover Letter…Not!” I’d like to share a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s application as court artist to the Duke of Milan. Juxtaposed with Hunter S. Thompson’s letter to the Vancouver Sun from 1958, note the stark contrast in tone and approach. While we are certainly not all Da Vinci’s, there is wisdom we can pull from this enterprising and dynamic cover letter.
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 instill 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.
(Although not here, Da Vinci is said to have signed this letter “A genius designer of weapons of war.”)
The Duke of Milan had a problem (well, many problems) and Da Vinci grabbed his immediate attention by presenting himself as the solution for said problems.
True that this letter was also his resume, but let’s look at it as a cover letter.
As mentioned in my last post a cover letter is not necessary when you have representation by a competent recruiter.
Now that we are in complete awe, as if we weren’t already, regarding Da Vinci’s talents; let us go over the key points which make his letter so amazing. Always keeping in mind that history reveals how he landed the job and kept it for almost 20 years while becoming an irrefutably iconic presence in art and invention.
Creativity ~ the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc
This is the most powerful and effective theme throughout the letter. Da Vinci was impactful in a captivating manner. He dazzled the King with his skills…”I can construct bridges…I can make a cannon…. I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay”. He followed this by offering to prove his talents on a trial basis.
Confidence ~ full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing
Times are not so different than they were in the 1400’s . When writing a cover letter promote your ideas with confidence, bearing in mind that you must completely believe in yourself for your reader to do so. Positive and truthful facts about your abilities don’t need to be dressed up with boastful adjectives. In the famous words of Walter Brennan “No brag- just fact!”
Clarity ~ clearness or lucidity; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity
Be direct and to the point. BE the solution to the problem.
As Da Vinci did, clearly state your skills as they fit the needs of your potential employer and do so as soon as possible in the letter. Da Vinci wasted very little time expounding on how great he was and how his ideas would change the course of Milan! Do the same! Don’t waste time with overused cliché’s, meaningless words and subjective emotional pleas. Bring up the facts quickly, articulate those facts clearly, stand tall on your claims with confidence and use creativity as the sash to bind everything together. You can’t lose!