Summer is the most competitive time for students to get internships, but opportunities may be increasing: 56 percent of employers want to hire more interns in 2014 than 2013, according to a survey by the internship matching site

To get in the game, students should start building job skills as soon as they can, says Gary Miller, the new executive director of The Career Center at Hofstra University in Hempstead. Miller, 44, previously served as senior assistant dean of the academic advising program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Career Center serves more than 3,900 students a year through one-on-one counseling, event attendance and presentations, and Hofstra's job board lists some 5,000 opportunities with companies including high-powered brands such as Google and Apple.

What's the biggest stumbling block for students seeking entry-level jobs?

It's probably not external, it's internal. It's about how early they need to start having that [career] conversation. If we can get them to do that as [freshmen] and sophomores instead of, you know, six weeks before graduation, we'll all benefit.

How important is it for a student to get an internship or other work experience?

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Ridiculously important. There was a time where those were seen as supplemental and optional, and I think we're well beyond those days.

What company connections are you working to build?

We want to shore up the relationships with the firms that need engineers and computer scientists, and I'd love to spend some time with [Henry Schein CEO Stanley M.] Bergman and just learn more from him. We already have some relationship with them, but I can see us growing that. We have an employer advisory board that has Goldman Sachs and UPS and Geico, NBC and ABC, Madison Square Garden, health care, just about any field you might pick.

Students were often told they could be whatever they want. What would you tell them now?

We still believe very strongly that students can select an academic major that is of interest to them, [but now] students need to be determining not only what field of study they want to pursue, but what industry or functional area they want to work in. So if I'm a philosophy major and I want to go work in management consulting, I could do that. I just have to identify that, early enough on, so that I can get the types of experiences I need to position myself to do it.

What's a good starting point to help a student who is floundering about what to do next?

Ask what they care about, what they're good at. A lot of times we have the conversations backwards. We start with, 'What are you going to do after you graduate?' and that can overwhelm students because there are so many occupations out there.