In the excitement of the actual job offer, the tendency for many college students and recent grads is to make the costly error of accepting the first offer that comes their way. However, the time frame between when the initial offer is made to when you accept the offer is a golden opportunity for negotiation. If these two events are simultaneous, you will lose a chance to negotiate which you may never have again. Remember that you are not in a position to negotiate money (and/or any of the other attachments) until after the "sale" is made. So all of this information should be utilized only if you are truly ready for offer negotiations.
How do you know when the timing is right? You are ready to negotiate when you have a "ready buyer." When you hear anything from "We are ready to make the offer" to the formal letter offering you the job. Until that time, you are not ready to negotiate the "whats" of the offer, only the "ifs" of whether or not you will get the offer. It is always the best negotiating posture to wait until you have the actual job offer in hand. In writing, if possible. Get the offer first, then begin negotiating.
To steadfastly put forth your "I am ready to consider your very best offer" response when the employer shows true interest at the end of the interviewing process should lead to the best possible initial offer from the company. Note the word "initial" because it is exactly that. Very few companies have offers that are "cut in stone"—even those that say they do. Often they will give in to many of the requested perks.
No, not questions that are wonderful. Questions that are still outstanding, questions not yet fully answered. If these questions still exist when the offer is made, you have two choices: ask them at the same time the offer is made (best choice) or add them to your list of potential concessions you will request when you accept (see The Acceptable Offer Negotiation Technique). You should always be ready for an offer to come through—at any time, under any circumstances. If you are not prepared in advance, you will miss the opportunity to ask these "free" negotiating questions that can give you additional career commitments above and beyond what has already been given. These questions are invaluable since they cost you virtually nothing from a negotiating standpoint.
So if you are on your toes when the offer is made, you can ask these key questions (if yet unasked in the interview process) at little or no risk:
"What are the promotional opportunities of the position?"
"To what position/level?"
"How and when will my performance be reviewed?"
"Will this include a salary review?"
"What kind of salary progression would typically be expected for new hires in the first three to five years?"
Be sure to take careful notes of the answers and who gave them. These may be the most liberal responses you ever hear with regard to your position. Don't be afraid to refer to these promises and guarantees later when they become important in your work and ongoing career. But realize that they are not true job offer negotiations. They are "gifts" given to you at the time of your job offer, possibly never to be uttered again. Take careful notes. And for a more comprehensive printable checklist for your job offer, review our Final Job Offer Checklist, with over 40 potential topic areas to cover.