Even though all elements in your application package are equally important, the recommendations allow the admissions committee to see you from the perspective of people who have had direct interactions with you and can depict you in an objective and realistic manner.
That is why it is important that you choose as your recommenders people who have observed you in a professional, academic or extracurricular environment.
Writing a reference is not an easy process
It requires the person you have asked to carefully think how he/she can describe your best features in a way which will convince the admissions committee that you are the right fit for their programme. In this sense, consider the programme you are applying for – is it a good idea to have an undergraduate professor in the field write you a reference or would it be better to have a supervisor from an internship you did? Or maybe both?
Many Master’s candidates have limited or no work experience, which in turn limits their options when they have to choose whom to ask for a reference. As the majority of graduate schools ask for at least two recommendations, you have to be smart and choose people who know you well enough to write personable and intimate letters, while at the same time can provide immediate impressions of your performance and can convince the committee of your diligence, motivation, determination and uncompromising work ethic. But please stay away from peers and relatives!
However, even though it may seem to be a genius move to have the CEO of the company where you interned or worked for a while write you a reference, consider if that person knows you well enough. If he or she doesn’t, submitting an impersonal and distant reference can do your application more harm than good.
Furthermore, whoever you choose, make sure that the person really knows you well beyond what he or she will write in the reference. Some schools have the practice of calling recommenders and asking additional questions about applicants. So, in addition to choosing people who know your character and performance, spend some time with them beforehand to further communicate your motivation and reasons for applying for a particular programme, as well as your goals. That way, if need be, they can give recruiters the right answers.
Last but not least, don’t postpone asking for a recommendation until the last moment! The process can take time and it’s always better to give your recommenders longer than you think it may take them so that they can rewrite and edit. Additionally, you don’t want to push them and use the deadline as a motivation to get them down to writing as this would create unnecessary pressure and can have a very negative impact on this extremely important reference.