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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SQL self join or sub-query interview question (employee-manager salary)

One of my favorite interview questions that tips even seasoned SQL guys (maybe because it's too simple) is around querying data that involves a self join.

What is a self join?
A self join is a join in which a table is joined with itself, specially when the table has a foreign  key which references its own primary key. 

Question: Given an Employee table which has 3 fields - Id (Primary key), Salary and Manager Id, where manager id is the id of the employee that manages the current employee, find all employees that make more than their manager in terms of salary. Bonus: Write the table creation script.

Let's start by creating our table:

    [Id] [int] NOT NULL,
    [ManagerId] [int] NOT NULL,
    [Salary] [money] NOT NULL,
        [Id] ASC

This will create our table with Id as primary key. Now let's modify this table to add a foreign key betweek ManagerId and Id.

ALTER TABLE [dbo].[Employee]  WITH CHECK ADD  CONSTRAINT [FK_Employee_Employee] FOREIGN KEY([ManagerId])
REFERENCES [dbo].[Employee] ([Id])

ALTER TABLE [dbo].[Employee] CHECK CONSTRAINT [FK_Employee_Employee]

Now we come to the meat of the question. How do you find all employees that make more than their manager. There are 2 ways to do this - one, use a self join; and two; use a sub-query.

Self-join solution:
select e.*, m.Salary as "Manager Salary"
from Employee e
join Employee m on e.ManagerId = m.Id
where e.Salary > m.Salary

Here you are "joining" Employee table to itself on the FK relation of ManagerId and then querying on salary.

Sub-query solution:
select *
from Employee e
where e.Salary >
    (select m.Salary from Employee m
    where e.ManagerId = m.Id)

This is most common solution I get from candidates. Which is fine, but knowing alternate approaches to finding a solution is always very helpful.

Happy coding till next time!


  1. In the table creation script, I wouldn't do it like this:
    [ManagerId] [int] NOT NULL
    When you get to the top manager, they don't have a manager themselves so you need to let the field be null for that one person at least.

  2. Both options are fine. Since the top guy will never make the select clause (his salary cannot be more than his salary) either of the assumptions work. But yes, from an interview perspective, I like it if the candidate can think of such questions.

  3. how can i find the managers of managers?

  4. You will need to use WITH RECURSIVE

  5. how to know one employee working more than one department in sql ?

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