"Ninety-nine per cent of people trying to get a job believe they are whizz-kids… Unless you realise that you do not at present know any more about advertising than your mother, you are no use to a good agency." He went on to point out that your mother might in fact be more useful as she probably buys more of the products that are advertised than you do.
Referring jobseekers to Dave’s guide is of course a good place to start. So is a job-application letter written half a millennium ago.
In the 1480s, Leonardo da Vinci applied for a job at the court of the ruler of Milan. It is an utterly brilliant letter constructed on the basis of what he can offer Ludovico Sforza, not on the basis of what he would like to do.
Work out what the business needs and be specific about how you can fulfil those needs better than anyone
Assuming, then, that da Vinci had a bit of an interest in drawing and painting, it’s noticeable that he doesn’t even mention his skills in this area until the end of his letter: "Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other." It is almost an afterthought. His application is tailored to what he, and only he, can offer to make Sforza’s personal objectives more attainable. These include plans for portable bridges with which you can pursue or flee the enemy; several types of cannon; and "an infinite number of items for attack and defence".
The letter – part of a brilliant collection, Letters Of Note, by Shaun Usher – is a fantastic guide to anyone aspiring to a new job. Don’t dive in with what you are good at. Work out what the business needs and be specific about how you can fulfil those needs better than anyone. By all means talk about your core skills, but only framed in the context of their needs. I have spoken to more than one prospective advertising candidate who, when asked what advertising they think is good and why, can only mention Nike because it has footballers they like in it.
Da Vinci concludes his letter with two excellent points. First, he applies his talents in art specifically to Sforza like this: "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." Nice use of flattery and appeal to family values. Finally, he offers proof: "If any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible… I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park." Always be prepared to walk the walk, right here, right now.
Sue Unerman is the chief stratregy officer at MediaCom