In 1483 a young Leonardo da Vinci applied for a job with the ruler of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. Sforza was in need of military engineer at the time of war. Da Vinci applied for the job through a letter listing his qualifications and explaining why he would be best for the job, essentially a cover letter or covering letter.
Sforza employed da Vinci, and several years later commissioned him to paint ‘The Last Supper’.
Here are some ideas from da Vinci’s Covering Letter:
1. Start strong
My Most Illustrious Lord… I shall endeavour…to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets.
You probably will start with “Dear Sir/Madam” but a personalised greeting is far stronger. His was personalised because it was a single copy delivered probably by hand. He added to this by dangling “secrets” in from of his target employer. He set himself apart right up front – just as you should do. Quickly (i.e. concisely!) sketch out why you would be good for the job and why you are different from the other candidates.
2. Write about what is relevant to the employer
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.”
Be explicit but not petty – they don’t want to know the sub-set of the technique you use for tyre changing – but they do need to know that you can change tyres quickly.
3. Show you are different, that you understand the employer’s world and make them want to take you off the market.
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.
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.
Da Vinci differentiated what he offered from the competition. And he added exclusivity – this is a given in a job interview but the threat of someone having your services, and hiring you because they want you in THEIR team, is what you are aiming for.
4. Title lists are necessary but don’t get you the job. Give a brief description of your skills
‘I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats… should a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defence’.
Like da Vinci, keep your skills and qualifications brief. A couple of sentences on each one would be enough, and make sure that all the skills you include are relevant for the job that you are applying for. Check out the employer’s website and use their jargon where possible.
5. Show flexibility
‘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’.
You don’t need to be able to create sculptures out of three different materials, but show that you are flexible, able and willing to learn and open to change and to develop If you can offer more than one skill to start off with – even better. Always try and outline more than one thing you can “bring to the table”. DO NOT list responsibilities you won’t take on, or jobs you don’t want to do. Ever. Stay positive in your covering letter.
6. References / Contact details
‘If any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible or impracticable to anyone, I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park’
Offer your references – not on request but freely given. Employers don’t have the time (or the inclination) to ask you to be so kind as to supply them with references – check with your references that you can use them – then give full contact details.
You can read the whole letter here
Image courtesy of sippakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net