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January 14, 2021

CVs, References and Cover Letters: How the application process varies between start-ups and corporations.

CVs, References and Cover Letters: How the application process varies between start-ups and corporations.

In the following analysis Taledos’ recruitment experts compare the required application documents for IT positions in the 50 most profitable companies in Germany with the 50 highest financed start-ups

You can find the complete results here

Study period: January 2020 and 5-6 January 2021.

Comparison of the required documents from startups and corporations

The Cover Letter- old fashioned or still on trend?

Again and again you hear that the cover letter has fallen out of style. Consequently, large corporations such as Robert Bosch, Deutsche Bahn and Alstrom Power Systems no longer require a cover letter. Also at companies such as Hochtief and Aldi Süd, the cover letter is purely optional. Overall, only 18% of companies require candidates to submit a written cover letter before they can complete their application. This number was 28% in January last year. This development shows that HR managers are under time pressure and it requires a huge effort to go through each individual cover letter.

It is even more interesting to look at the most highly funded start-ups. For such companies there is an assumption that an obligatory cover letter is a thing of the past- far from it! Still a fifth of these start-ups require a motivation letter, some of such being well-known names such as the tourism company financed with 656.6 million dollars GetYourGuide, the recently acquired by Dr. Oetker drink delivery service Flaschenpost SE as well as the fitness app provider Freeletics. For over 70% of startups however the cover letter can be optionally added to the application.

Certainly, there are some positions in companies that justify the requirement of a motivation letter. This includes, for example, the entire communications field. An eloquently worded cover letter can rule out any weaknesses in advance. In the IT sector, on the other hand, other skills are clearly more important.

Especially for those starting out in their careers, a cover letter can help them visualize their own motivation. If applicants get bogged down in the formulation of their cover letter, it may not be the right job for them.

Are the CV and cover letter the foundations of a good application?

Yes and no. Next we take a look at the CV. Since January 2020 very little has changed at the big corporations in regards to this topic. 71% of the big corporations still require a CV, examples of such being Bayer, Continental and Daimler. For some companies, such as Baywa, the submission of a CV is optional.

The startups studied are even more strict when it comes to a list of your academic and professional history. For 82% of them a CV is obligatory. Only slightly over 18%, for example Adjust and McMackler, leave the decision up to the candidate themselves. Whether or not an application that is submitted without a CV is successful is another question.

It is no wonder that such a heavy emphasis is placed on a well-structured resume. It allows HR managers to find out everything they need to know about the career and education of a prospective employee in the shortest time possible. Of course, the trained eye will notice other conspicuous features here, such as very frequent job changes and several resignations within the probationary period. But don't worry! Positive things like promotions, which show the ambition of the candidates, are also recognised in a flash.

The submission of references, on the other hand, no longer seems to be a decisive factor. Within the last years, the mandatory submission of references at large companies has dropped from 16% to 10%. There is still however the voluntary option of submitting references at 86% of corporations. 4%, such as BP Europa and Siemens, do not ask for them at all.

The situation is similar among start-ups. Only just under 4% require references and over 25% leave it up to the applicant. For 70%, such as the Auto1 Group and N26, the submission of references is all but obsolete.

Comparison for the required documents of corporations between 2020 and 2021

The trend shows: the cover letter is losing more and more importance

In summary, the trend is to move away from a lot of text and towards clearly laid out data.

The CV is for both the analysed companies (with 71%) and startups (with 82%) the most important part of a successful application. Therefore, it is worthwhile to invest a little bit of time here in order to make a positive impression on the decision makers. This is no surprise. After all, the CV does contain all the most important information at a glance.

Marcel Poelker, CTO and co-founder of Taledo, explains the difference like this:

„German corporations are gradually realizing that traditional application processes are hopelessly outdated. Applicants and HR departments prefer lean and, above all, efficient application processes. Large corporations often work in a data-driven manner in the application process - especially in the IT sector. For startups, good grades and degrees are also relevant, but applicants should have a certain mentality and motivation."

By the way, it isn’t worth it to lie or exaggerate on your application. At most, it will be noticed if candidates have not been quite accurate with the truth by the job interview. Even if only 7% of start-ups and 14% of large corporations still require references, future employers are always entitled to check your references in case of doubts.

The cover letter is continually losing importance at the big corporations. Only 18% of these companies require it. At the analysed startups, surprisingly only a fifth require it.

This discrepancy can certainly also be explained by the number of employees and applicants. In well-known large corporations, far more applications are received every day - not only for advertised positions, but also unsolicited applications - than in startups. The processing of all cover letters means an almost unmanageable amount of time required of HR managers.

Certainly, a letter of motivation can be helpful for applicants to get to grips with a vacancy in depth before a possible first interview. However, this applies more to those starting out in their careers who do not yet have much experience. Apart from that, being able to write independently is of course a requirement.


Since the CV is usually still the core of an application, it is especially important to make it informative and meaningful. If you still need a little help writing it, you can read our tips for successfully creating a resume in the blog post "5 steps to create a perfect CV layout".

Detailed information on the documents required for the online applications for various companies can be found in the table below.

Which documents are required?

* At least one upload is required for Aicuris, NavVis and Cynora.
**A cover letter is required at Infarm, but this is labelled differently there.
*** BASF, McKesson and Shell allow alternatively to fill in the CV online, but one of the methods is necessary to complete the application.

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