Lyres, Dammed Lyres and Statistics

In 1482 a 30-year-old Leonardo da Vinci was sent off from Florence to Milan by his patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici.

According to Vasari, Leonardo could hold a tune and had, presumably in his spare time, made a silver lyre in the shape of a horse’s head.  Lorenzo “il Magnifico” had come to hear of it and gave Leonardo the job of securing peace with Ludovico Sforza the Duke of Milan by giving it as a gift.

One assumes that Lorenzo saw Leonardo right for the cost.

Anyway, when he arrived in Milan matters went as follows:

Leonardo – “Here’s a silver lyre in the shape of a horse’s head that I made. Can we have peace between Milan and Florence?”

Ludovico – “Yeah, a horse’s backside would have been insulting so okay.”

Following this exchange, Leonardo was apparently at something of a loose end and rather fancied staying in Milan. So he asked for a job with Ludovico by writing to him to tell him how clever he was over eleven bullet points. These included his skills in civil engineering, siege warfare, gunnery, architecture, hydraulics, painting and sculpture.

So in 1482, in addition to the helicopter and the tank, Leonardo da Vinci had invented the CV.

Although the document led pretty much directly to the creation of “The Last Supper”, “Lady with an Ermine” and “the Virgin of the Rocks”, Leonardo would struggle to get a look in now. You will understand that he had made the elementary error of not only not writing it in Word but actually laying it out by hand. Therefore there is no way that any self-respecting HR department could scan it on to a database in any readable format.

505 years after Leonardo’s résumé I started work for a high street employment agency in Aberdeen. The floor was sticky, the desks wobbly and the management a delightful meld of delusional and obnoxious. However, the company had some redeeming features propped up by a remarkably effective training programme delivered by a team of heavy smokers in Leicester.

The best lesson was the lesson about CV’s and that lesson was, “never accept or submit a CV”. Remarkably in late 1980’s office staffing in Aberdeen, you could still do this – and it worked.

As far as candidates were concerned, if you came to our office over Burger King (the smell of hot meat – pervasive) you would be sat down in front of a grumpy man with a hangover and an ill-fitting suit and interviewed. We’d reconstruct the last five years or so of your life in Biro on a specially prepared card that we would later either lose immediately or store in category order in a box and then lose. The key effect of not just taking a photocopy of everyone’s CV at the door (as all the lesser agencies did) was that we actually had spent time with our candidates and genuinely knew something about them based on real-life face to face discussions.

As far as our clients were concerned we never sent CV’s, we sent people. If the person sounded good enough based on our interview then why on earth would you want a piece of paper rather than the actual person Mr Client?

The system worked really well in a pre-digital age. We turned around most roles in under a week. Usually, we’d talk to someone that sounded right and, following the interview, call the client and set up a meeting for them whilst they sat and watched us do it.

We’d send the candidate around “right away” with a pro-forma intro letter. It was a simple matter to follow everything up an hour or so later and have an offer letter out before the pub opened. Happy days.

Better still, follow up surveys showed that our retention record was fantastic. I’m aware of one person who I placed one afternoon in the spring of 1989 who is now on the board of the company I placed them in. You’re welcome, Sarah.

And then…

People started buying PC’s and printers – by 1989 even I had one – and CV’s became all too easy to type up, print off and to file at the other end.

Whereas in 1988 I could speak to a client about a senior role and send a candidate CV-less straight from my desk to their office, the poor sod doing my old job now is no longer sending people but emailing CV’s to sit in someone’s in-tray. The immediacy and intimate knowledge have gone to be replaced by carefully formatted formal narratives offering the world and explaining nothing.

If only Leonardo had just gone straight to the ducal palace and not sent a letter life might perhaps be simpler and more efficient now.

Posted on: 18th March 2019 by Ivor Campbell

Into his fourth decade of search Ivor has a voice with stories to tell, observations to make and the odd picture to share. Mostly related to the day job.

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