Earlier this month, as a prank, an Australian radio host phoned up a complete stranger and claimed that he needed a last-minute reference for a job at an accountancy firm.
The unwitting victim, James Lord, promised to 'tell them that you're a ripper bloke'.
And when a few minutes later James got a call from 'Graham Burn from Kells & Co', he stepped up to the mark, assuring the caller that the applicant spoke two languages and regularly helped his football team out with fundraisers.
It was a glowing reference: and if it had been genuine, it would surely have done the trick.
Indeed, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, most firms still don't check up on job applicants' references - but many do, and 17% of firms have uncovered at least one fake.
There are even agencies that will provide false references, tailored to individual jobs; and they go to extraordinary lengths, even setting up fake company websites and telephone switchboards for when an employer checks up.
Few of us would be prepared to be quite this dishonest. But references can often be a real problem when applying for a job. Who should you give as a referee, and what are your rights?
Do I have to put my references on my CV?
It's not necessary to list your references on your CV, and these days most people don't; a simple statement that references are available on request is perfectly fine. After all, you probably won't want potential employers to get in touch with your current boss too soon.
If you're filling in an application form that asks for referees, though, you'll need to comply. And sometimes it's a good idea to include them: listing referees can demonstrate that you have good contacts, and have impressed them.
Who should I choose as my referees?
Obviously, the best people to ask to give you a reference are previous employers - although only if you're sure they'll give you a good write-up. It's polite to ask people's permission before giving out their name and contact details.
Sometimes, of course, the person has moved on from the company where you worked with them, but with a little detective work you may be able to track them down.
However, references don't necessarily have to come from previous employers - sometimes customers or other individuals within your organisation can be just as appropriate. And if you're young, it may make sense to include a reference from a university tutor or a teacher.
And you may wish to give different referees for different applications, depending on the nature of the new job and who's best positioned to comment on your ability to do it well.
Does my current employer have to give me a reference?
There's no legal requirement for your current boss to give you a reference; and if they do, there are no rules on how long and detailed it has to be. There are certain exceptions, such as in financial services.
Indeed, these days many of not most employers make it a policy to give only the most basic information: your name, how long you worked at the organisation and your job title. However, if they do give you a reference, the law says it has to be fair and accurate.
Can my employer give me a bad reference?
Your boss certainly can give you a bad reference - although in practice, few do. The reason is that because a reference has to be fair and truthful, they tend to want to play it safe and not say anything that you could possibly use as grounds to sue.
What can I do if I'm given a bad reference?
If you discover that you've been given a bad reference, you can take legal action - although only if, as we've seen, the reference is either unfair or inaccurate.
You'll need to be able to prove that the information in the reference was misleading; that it's had a negative effect on your employment prospects; and that your employer was negligent in providing it.
Do I have a right to see my reference?
Employees are permitted to see or request a copy of employer references under the rules of the Data Protection Act. However, you can only request your reference from the organisation it's been given to, rather than from the person giving the reference, and you'll have to pay a £10 fee.
The UK's 10 best-paid jobs
The UK's 10 best-paid jobs
Flying high literally as well as metaphorically, pilots top the salary scale this year. There are various routes into the job, from university courses to airlines' own training schemes; private training will set you back as much as £50,000 to £60,000.
"I most enjoy the variety of the job, working as a team, to a schedule, with the responsibility of safely transporting hundreds of people to their destination. I would advise aspiring pilots to thoroughly research training routes, understand the serious financial outlay required with no guarantee of a job after training and to consider other routes such as flight instruction."
Not all CEOs are making millions - but they're doing pretty nicely on average. There's no clear route into the job; an MBA can help, but many bosses have worked their way up from the bottom and many simply started their own firm.
"There is an old saying, it's very lonely at the top, which is usually the case for a CEO. You're the leader and you're responsible for everything, meaning you take the credit for the successes and feel the most pain for the companies' failures."
Most air traffic controllers train through National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which has programmes for college leavers who have studied at BTEC ND/HNC/HND level, university students on a sandwich year and graduates. NATS says the most important attribute for acceptance on a course is natural aptitude.
"Much of the time, the job is routine and capable of being done by many people. What you are paid for, however, is your ability to make the right choices and decisions under extreme pressure."
The high pay reflects both the heavy workload and the length of training required - a five-year degree course in medicine, a two-year foundation programme of general training and then another three years specialist training.
"You will get paid well and (despite recent changes!) you will get a very good pension. You will, however, work hard for your money with less recognition than previous years."
This is a job where most people work their way up, although qualifications like the Chartered Institute of Marketing's Professional Diploma in Marketing or the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing's Diploma in Direct and Interactive Marketing can help. You'll probably need three or four years' experience before you can move into management.
"It's great working in such a varied job - there's something new every day. I enjoy the travel, too. But it's fast-paced, very hard work, and there's a lot of technical data analysis work involved."
It's not surprising that IT and telecoms directors earn good money. The job requires both business and technical skills, and the stakes are high: smoothly-running IT systems are crucial for most businesses and the cost of getting things wrong is high.
"It's a high-pressure job, and the hours can be unbelievably long, but it's extremely rewarding when a project goes well. The biggest problems are staying on top of changes in technology and being clear about what's actually achievable within a budget."
Financial managers and directors need to be qualified accountants and, particularly in larger organisations, have strong general business skills. And the job carries huge levels of responsibility, from keeping the company in good health financially to making sure it complies with the law.
"What I enjoy about the job is the way it's central to the business, the way I'm involved in creating long-term business plans. Compliance [with regulations] can be a bit of a pain; it takes a lot of hard work."
Until recently, the only way to become a senior officer was to work your way up through the ranks. Each police force sets its own recruitment process and selection policy, though there's a basic national framework for evaluating competency. This year, though, the College of Policing has started appointing superintendents from outside the force - so you might be in with a chance.
"I love the opportunity to take on a vast array of roles which would never be possible in a civilian organisation and to progress through a clearly defined promotion structure, should I prove to be good enough. The training I have received has been quite brilliant, enhancing my life skills as well as my ability to do my job well."
If your vision of a bank manager is of a middle-aged man in a panelled office dictating stern letters to his secretary, think again. It's now about managing a team and, especially, attracting new customers and monitoring branch performance. There are two ways to get to be one: either through a bank's graduate scheme, or by starting off in a customer service role and working your way up.
"For me, what's great about working in a branch is that anyone could be a branch manager, you don't have to have a certain skill set. Having a background in customer service, whether it's in a bank or with another retailer, certainly helps. Some other skills that would help are organisation, patience, tolerance and empathy. After 27 years I can genuinely say that that not only do I love coming to work every day, I have also made lifelong friends here. For me, it's not just a nine-to-five job."
Once you're qualified as a teacher, it's a question of working your way up by gaining extra responsibilities - by becoming a head of department, a head of year, or a specialist in something like special educational needs. At head teacher level, the job is far less about teaching itself, and far more about managing staff and budgets and creating a productive, disciplined learning environment.
"It's a common complaint that teaching is all about performance targets these days, and there is some truth in that. It's a question of balance, though. The most rewarding part of the job is knowing that you're bringing the best out of every single child by creating an environment where they feel safe and motivated to learn."