Over the past couple of decades, I've sent out a few hundred resumes (maybe, I don't know, 300 or 400--my spreadsheet for 2013-2015 lists 145 applications). Out of those I've gotten at most two dozen interviews and a dozen job offers.
Throughout that time I've maintained a list of references on my resume. The rest of the resume is, to my mind, not very informative. The list of job titles and degrees says little about how competent I was.
Now and then, I check with one of my references to see if anyone called them. I checked again yesterday with the second reference on my list. The answer was the same: Nope. No one has ever, as far as I can recall, called any of my references. Not the people who interviewed me; not the people who offered me jobs.
When the US government did a background check on me, they asked me for a list of references to contact. My uncertain recollection is that they ignored it and interviewed my neighbors and other contacts instead, as if what I had given them was a list of people not to bother contacting because they'd only say good things about me.
Is this rational or irrational? Why does every employer ask for a list of references, then not call them?