When I first started publishing Ask The Headhunter online in 1995, the most popular and frustrating question I’d get from readers was, How can I write a really great resume that will get me an interview?

My answer was simple: Throw your resume in the garbage. Don’t use a resume. A resume is a crutch. A dumb piece of paper. It cannot defend you to a manager who finds something wrong with it (or missing from it). It will get you rejected before you have a chance to make your case for the job. While your resume is gathering dust on some manager’s desk, my candidate is negotiating a salary package with the hiring manager.

But people kept asking, so I figured that if I can’t provide a useful response to the question, I’m useless. So I wrote an article titled Resume Blasphemy to answer the question. Shortly thereafter I added another on the same topic: Put a Free Sample in Your Resume. The two articles describe what I refer to as The Working Resume™.

Since then, I’ve challenged people to submit their idea of a Working Resume — cautioning them not to bother me with traditional resumes, which I won’t bother reading. A few have submitted interesting efforts because they get the main idea. But only a few. Others beg me to publish the good ones, but I won’t. Why should I give away one person’s insights to competitors? Besides, if I give you a template, you’ll just use it rather than figure it out for yourself. And figuring it out is 100% of the challenge.

Recently a longtime reader, Phil Hey (The Writing Coach at Briar Cliff College, Sioux City, Iowa — Thanks, Phil!) sent me an excellent example of The Working Resume that’s in the public domain. It meets the criteria I set forth in my articles — and it got the writer the job he was seeking.

Frankly, this resume kicks ass because it observes the #1 rule for a truly blasphemous resume: It should say nothing about you. It should be entirely about the work the employer needs to have done.

The killer part of the resume is at the very end. The job applicant volunteers to show up at the employer’s place — and do the job to win the job. He says he’ll prove himself.

You don’t have to be Leonardo DaVinci to produce your own Working Resume. But you’ve gotta be damned good and ready to prove it. If you’re not, you don’t deserve to be hired, do you?

Here’s Leonardo DaVinci’s letter to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, applying for a job in 1481 :

Having, most illustrious lord, seen and considered the experiments of all those who pose as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and finding that their inventions differ in no way from those in common use, I am emboldened, without prejudice to anyone, to solicit an appointment of acquainting your Excellency with certain of my secrets.

1. I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable, with which to pursue and defeat the enemy; and others more solid, which resist fire or assault, yet are easily removed and placed in position; and I can also burn and destroy those of the enemy.

2. In case of a siege I can cut off water from the trenches and make pontoons and scaling ladders and other similar contrivances.

3. If by reason of the elevation or the strength of its position a place cannot be bombarded, I can demolish every fortress if its foundations have not been set on stone.

4. I can also make a kind of cannon which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail, and of which the smoke causes great terror to the enemy, so that they suffer heavy loss and confusion.

5. I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages either straight or winding, passing if necessary underneath trenches or a river.

6. I can make armoured wagons carrying artillery, which shall break through the most serried ranks of the enemy, and so open a safe passage for his infantry.

7. If occasion should arise, I can construct cannon and mortars and light ordnance in shape both ornamental and useful and different from those in common use.

8. When it is impossible to use cannon I can supply in their stead catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other instruments of admirable efficiency not in general use — In short, as the occasion requires I can supply infinite means of attack and defense.

9. And if the fight should take place upon the sea I can construct many engines most suitable either for attack or defense and ships which can resist the fire of the heaviest cannon, and powders or weapons.

10. In time of peace, I believe that I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another.

I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, also in painting I can do as much as anyone else, whoever he may be.

Moreover, I would undertake the commission of the bronze horse, which shall endue with immortal glory and eternal honour the auspicious memory of your father and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the aforesaid things should seem to anyone impossible or impracticable, I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Now, who gives a rat’s ass what the job applicant’s credentials and experiece are, where he went to school, what grades he got, what skills he has, who else he has worked for, what titles he has had, and what his prior accomplishments are — when the applicant says he can do all the things you need him to do and is willing to show up and prove it? That’s a Working Resume.

(Republished from Yurica Report. If you need The Writing Coach, Phil Hey, contact him at Phil.Hey@briarcliff.edu)

  1. A working resume is the only resume worth anything. This is a fine example of cutting the bullshit, (as well as the hype and pump shit) of most resumes. There is little to add to this post because it takes the essentials and nails them home. THIS is what finding the right employee is about and how that employee should be able to get the job. Who wouldn’t understand or like this concept? The failure, the freak who can’t open his (or her) mouth. The one who is the office kiss ass and yes man wearing his degree like a Goddamn brownie button. The one just going through the motions he was taught to perform like a circus monkey. He is also the one when fired who is the first to cry.

  2. Ummm… So how does a hiring manager who read the above resume separate the wheat from the chaff? How many charlatans and wannabes did the duke have to interview before he found the one da Vinci? Everyone can SAY the know so and so technology, have done this and that, or is willing to do x,y and z. How does a manager actually have a better confidence that they can do it without your say so?

  3. @Jeff: Did you miss the part about, “I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency?”

    Bring ’em in and let ’em show you. It’s not such a waste of time, since very few will claim they can do something they can’t, and the liars will never show up. Which raises an interesting possibility: Why not tell applicants that you don’t conduct interviews? “We’d like you to come visit, and show us what you can do. It’s ‘stand and deliver.'” Once again, few will show up. Those who do are your best bets.

  4. @Nick, I did miss it, however, it doesn’t matter to me.

    I work with 3-6 month timeframes. “tryouts” need at least a month, at which point I may not be able to recover if the “tryout” fails. Resumes and interviews gives me a verifiable way to say “Ok, I can do this” or “I don’t know this technology, but I can learn/I’ve used similar things before.”

    Time is money. Or rather, time means (un)successful projects, which may mean money. I’d rather spend 2-4 hours on multiple candidates up front than to spend 1 month elapsed time and have to fire the guy.

  5. @Nick, Oh, also, “just try me out” is the domain of snake oil salesman.

    One of the biggest moneymakers on late night television is the “your money back” guarantee. Because of laziness, inertia, and whatever, it has been scientifically proven that people tend to keep what they get, regardless of fitness to the utility. “Just try me out” in most companies will result in many people that kind-of-can-do-the-job, but very few that is a good fit.

    (IMO, of course.)

  6. @Jeff Wang: Point taken about snake oil. But this cuts both ways. Employers routinely waste job applicants’ time by interviewing them without any indication that they intend to hire. A seasoned expert in publishing recently told me she went through 12 interviews… before being told she wasn’t right for the job. They didn’t realize this after 6? Still, I get your point. Good judgment is necessary no matter how you approach hiring (or job hunting).

  7. Nick – I trust you are on Mark Cenedella’s email list, and have received this morning’s pep talk from him… er you… seeing as its a copy of this post.

    Now we know that Cenedella reads this website…

    Hey Mark, I want a job that pays 100k give or take!!!!


  8. Nick-nice idea. Now explain how the working resume gets digested by the HR technocrunch profile matching machine? We’re in 2010, if you can’t be digested into that machine, your only getting into a start-up.

    Leonardo’s idea is great to carry into the meeting. Until you can get the doc into a person’s hands, you are out of luck.

  9. @Carla: Now you’re getting it. The working resume doesn’t get digested by the machine because you don’t give it to the machine. Why do you want to search for a job with a piece of paper that has the equivalent of a UPC code on it? Why do you want machines to process you?

    Your last sentence is the point. You must get your info into the hands of the person making the decision. Why pretend otherwise?

    Just because there’s a system that wants you to behave like a piece of paper waiting to be called forth to the shredder, doesn’t mean you have to go along. As you seem to imply, that method isn’t very good. So why play along when there are other ways?

  10. Nick – While it is true that this kind of resume will not make it past the Clones that run recruitment agencies, it surely does a lot for the job hunter himself. To actually write this working resume:
    – you have to dig deep and assess yourself, are you just a freeloader looking for money, or are you really able to do stuff that someone will be glad to pay you for?
    – Did you just go through cheat-sheets and get some paper certification or are you willing to stand in front of your peers and be tested.
    – In short, can you really do the business. If you can, then be confident enough to tell it to those who will pay for your services. If you are a badass, be ready to kickass.

    No one should skip the fact though that while Da Vinci made serious claims, he did not present it in an arrogant manner. That fine balance, is the key to this kind of resume I think…

  11. Hey Nick. Do you have any tips for professionals with a crimnal history.